At Dinami, every day is International Youth Day.
Today is International Youth Day… except at Dinami, where every day is Youth Day!
As of August 2019, we are in the fourth year of the migration crisis that spiked in Greece in 2015. Of the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in Greece in these four years, about 80.000 remain here; of these, about 20.000 are youth. Youth whose studies were interrupted by conflict, then picked up and dropped again throughout displacement. Youth who experienced all their teenage insecurities, their first love and first loss, in displacement. Youth who had to grow up incredibly fast—in the least stable, least safe, least comfortable environments imaginable.
Today, on International Youth Day, they prepare to leap into adulthood from a tenuous foundation. The strongest foundation they have been able to build over this journey. We, at Dinami, do our utmost to support them in making this step.
Over the course of 2018, RTI designed Dinami to tackle, at once, the multiple issues that displaced young people face in their day to day life: isolation and unemployment, a dearth of recreational activities and educational opportunities. A lack of psychosocial support at a crucial and formative age. Dinami provides refugee youth based in Thessaloniki access to project-based instruction in artistic and creative fields, offering them structure and a sense of routine. Dinami builds and is built on healthy relationships, helping youth connect with one another, as peers and as kin, while also building bridges to mentors and professional networks that might help them turn their budding aspirations into careers.
Finally, Dinami creates a safe and protective environment, where we help youth learn to express themselves and process difficult experiences, and begin to heal psychological wounds and rebuild healthy social structures.
We operate in a context where traditional secondary education is difficult to access for refugee youth, and poorly tailored to their complex needs. Rather than try to replace or re-create the education that a public school would offer, we work to empower young adults to take initiative and make responsible decisions that will carry them into healthy adulthoods. We measure our success in the mirror of our participants, observing as they start to develop self esteem, start feeling—and acting—autonomously, and as they become aware of their capabilities. Though it might be a stretch to claim that we are transforming education, we firmly believe that displaced youth have complex needs and that they must be approached with sensitive and trauma-informed approaches. Dinami offers displaced youth in Thessaloniki expressive outlets and intersectional projects to help them meet these needs—offering a promising model for transforming youth development programming, that is highly tailored to the needs of displaced youth in today's Europe.
Dinami in Action: the Filmmaking Workshops
Dinami's inaugural project, held in October 2018, was a 1-month intensive filmmaking course. After finishing this project, to highly encouraging results, we decided to develop a longer and more in-depth program, which we were able to deliver in June and July of this year. To ensure accessibility and sustainability, we used low-budget equipment such as mobile phones and DIY gadgets for shooting scenes, so that participants would feel encouraged to continue developing their skills and creating films, with their own devices, after the conclusion of the workshop.
We began each workshop by focusing on the technical and practical aspects of filmmaking. To ensure participants received quality instruction, and also built robust professional networks, we brought in filmmakers from Greece and the UK to teach sessions on framing, composition, storytelling, interviewing, editing, and directing. Through each of these sessions, the participants applied their newly acquired knowledge in real time, engaging in practical exercises individually and in groups, and coming up with their own stories. At the end of each session, they generated and reviewed 1-minute films, scripts and storyboards, and peer-to-peer interviews, to develop both their technical skills and their capacity to critique their own work and to support and inform one another. Through this entire process, they received close support and guidance from both the filmmaking instructors and the Dinami team.
Once they had learned the basics, the participants started coming up with story ideas in the third week of the program. We held a brainstorming session to capture everybody's ideas, and then guided them to consolidate their ideas into two stories to be filmed by two teams. We spent several sessions to support them on creating scripts, framing their stories, building storyboards, and developing characters, and on identifying the right locations before they started shooting. The process was challenging, as we not only had to constantly teach and reinforce the technical side of filmmaking, but also help them lean to contain their enthusiasm to start shooting scenes right away, and channel it into careful planning.
The first film was a combination of two ideas brought to the table by 2 participants, Christian and Sherzad. Initially, they had intended to create two separate films, but eventually they decided to consolidate their projects into one, and pulled a team together around it. Their vision was to make a comedy short about football, that included events and characters—dramatic, sordid, and just plain silly—that happen every week in real football matches, such as players diving for penalties, bad referees making bad decisions, and goalkeepers down on their luck. The resulting film, built around the intense emotions of a football game, but also around their absurdity, floats on the team's profound imagination, and on creatively filmed angles and effects to create pauses and delays that build the film's tension to a hilarious conclusion.
The team faced some serious challenges, such as finding enough actors to cover all of the roles. Once casting was complete, they struggled all the more to find a football pitch that would allow them to film—meaning the pitch would need to be empty during opening hours—and to find a time where their entire cast could assemble for filming. Fortunately, the weather collaborated on the day of filming!
The second film was borne of a single participant’s idea, Majid, with additional team members helping to develop the story and build up the storyboards to collectively finalize the story. The makers of this film wanted to tell a story that would be pleasant to watch, but that also carried a deeper meaning about friendship and about being in society. Despite contrasting ideas, the team worked together well to divide up tasks: some team members cast themselves as actors of the movies, some coordinated to shoot the story from multiple angles, and yet others worked on editing and post-production, which ended up taking up the most time. The resulting short film might be billed as a comedy or as a drama: its satire captures the team's own reflections on how they themselves function—or fail to—in their day-to-day lives.
One of the biggest challenges was the fact that some actors did not feel comfortable speaking English on camera. However, they had a clear vision for the film they wanted to make, and were flexible and creative enough to find solutions. From the cliff-edge, they came up with an elegant solution: they shot a silent film, with dialogue carried by subtitles rather than spoken word. This, in turn, made for a film that engages, without using any spoken word, with our willingness—or lack thereof—to look up from our screens in public and speak to one another.
We couldn't be prouder of our filmmaking students, nor of all the youth that have coursed through Dinami over the last year. As we continue offering sessions—in August we completed a rap and music workshop, and in September we will launch into comedy and free expression—we look forward to continuing to meet and work with refugee youth, and to draw from the generosity of professionals collaborators from across Thessaloniki!
You can see all DInami filmmaking project films at our YouTube channel.