In June 2009, Reel Islington Screenings (RIS) held its second film festival to showcase up and coming young film-making talent in Islington.
Islington has been acclaimed for its outstanding youth work throughout the borough. Young Muslim Voices (YMV), part of the youth engagement programme of the Listen Up project, won the prestigious Phillip Lawrence award in 2008 for its youth engagement work. RIS has been working alongside many youths across the borough in order to support budding film-makers. In so engaging youths in different activities to better their lives and provide them with skills that are not taught in schools, RIS has provided Islington youths with the opportunity to express their opinions on matters they find most important, issues that would not have been explored by the mass media.
Reel Islington showed a variety of short films all of which invoked empathy from the audience and sent out thought-provoking messages about society today. Some were documentaries, others short fictional films and some made the audience laugh once they had recognised the irony of situations which we all at some point experience.
There was also the more serious three-part documentary All Shades of Grey produced by Minou Norouzi, who worked alongside young Muslims from the YMV project based at the White Lion youth centre in Islington. These were initially filmed for the YMV conference in November 2008, where key decision-makers, with the power to make change, were invited for the day to hear the issues facing young Muslims today.
All Shades of Grey proved to be a success straight away. Part one featured two Eritrean refugee girls who arrived in this country a couple of years ago, were dumped, helpless and unable to speak English, in Islington and left to fend for themselves. The films made a huge impact when shown at festivals in Germany and Canada. One of the girls, Maria, was able to travel to Germany to make a personal appearance at the film festival resulting in a very emotional reaction from many in the audience who had never before experienced or witnessed such despair. The two girls, Tsieher and Maria, are now, with support from YMV, looking to establish their own organisation to help girls in similar situations – using their experiences to help others.
The second part of All Shades of Grey is about young Somali youths who have arrived in this country and transformed their passion for football into the creation of their own football club, Jubba FC. In doing so these boys have challenged the stereotypes of young Somali Muslims. The film showed an interview with Omar describing his work and success as a community leader. He and co-leader Amin Hussein have created the organisation Jubba Youth Community Association, primarily to help youths adjust to life in this country and promote a sense of community in young people who may feel alienated from society. Omar and Amin are an inspiration to all young people because of everything they have achieved in the short time they have spent in this country and because of the hope they offer to any newly arrived migrants. They are true role models to everyone within their community.
The final documentary in All Shades of Grey is on silent voices – the voices of girls. In the last few years, much attention has been paid to Muslim women with stories continually portraying them as oppressed by the religion of Islam. However what most people are unaware of is the important way in which cultural factors impact on a young Muslim girl’s life. It is usually these factors rather than Islam that prevent them from having a voice. YMV has given Muslim girls a place were they can get involved freely and engage in activities they otherwise would not have experienced. Not only does it offer activities such as self-defence but also valuable life skills which girls can use in the future. One active member of YMV talks about her experiences as a young British Muslim Bangladeshi girl and the cultural obstacles she faces from her family over the simplest of things such as her decision to attend the White Lion youth centre and trying to establish a relationship of trust between her and her parents.
These three documentaries barely scratch the surface of the issues facing young people. But they have gone a good way in highlighting the problems that need to be addressed and definitely made more people aware of the problems facing the youth nowadays. As such they represent a positive step towards integrating Muslim youth within the wider community.
It is worth mentioning that although All Shades of Grey were a great success at the Islington festival they were not the only films screened. These other films were evidence that youth talent is on the rise. These young film-makers are the ones to watch out for in the years to come.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Young? British? Muslim? Listen Up!’