By Kristin Schultz
Since 2011, civil war has been raging in Syria with devastation falling particularly hard on civilians. As the war drags on, the humanitarian crisis has captured the world’s attention — from politicians to charity and aid workers. The words “refugees” and “heartbreak” have become synonymous with Syria.
But for Niskayuna High School senior Jad Jacob, Syria is more than a distant land. Jad’s father, an immigration attorney, hails from Aleppo and his mother, a physician, is from Damascus. The couple immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago.
In a move to shine a light on the humanity of the Syrian crisis, Jad, an aspiring filmmaker with projects already under his belt, went with his father, Joseph, to Stuttgart, Germany, to make a documentary about Syrian refugees.
Now, with editing nearly complete, Jad is looking for a venue or festival at which to show “I am Syria” and share his subjects’ stories with a wide audience.
“The news about Syria I kept seeing really impacted me because my parents are from Syria,” Jad said.
While Jad’s immediate family has been long-settled in America, one of Joseph’s childhood friends decided in 2014 to leave Aleppo.
“He went to Germany the usual way, unfortunately,” said Joseph who went on to describe the “usual way” as the process of flying to Turkey, being smuggled on a boat then landing on a small Greek island, being detained, trying to get documents, being detained again before finally making it to the German border and applying for asylum.
In May, 2016, Joseph went to Stuttgart to see his friend, Joseph Khoury. While casually talking with his family back in Niskayuna about Khoury and his experience, Jad got the idea to make a documentary. So a few months later, Jad and his father boarded a plane for Germany.
“We thought it was going to be a lot of fun,” said Joseph. “But it ended up being 16 hours a day every day of filming.”
“From the moment we got there we started interviewing,” said Jad. “We probably talked to 20 or 25 people. Everybody was so nice and willing to tell their stories.”
Those stories include one of a mother and her two daughters kicked out of a smuggler’s vehicle in the middle of nowhere having to find their way in the snow.
Then there’s the father with seven children trying to settle and find resources for his special-needs son.
Even though Jad’s extended family had experienced their homes being destroyed and other tragedies, Jad was not prepared to be affected by the stories of strangers, but he was.
“Anyone who hears these stories, these true stories, can’t help but be touched by them,” he said.
Refugees in Germany are housed in centers, a temporary living arrangement while they learn German, look for work and become integrated into their new community.
“That’s what gets lost sometimes,” said Joseph. “These people don’t want to be thought of as refugees forever. They want to be a part of their community like anyone else.”
Project takes shape
When filming wrapped, Jad had more than 24 hours to sort through, edit and put together a movie.
“People talked with us for up to an hour,” he said. “They just wanted to tell their story and we didn’t want to stop them.”
Jad did manage, with the help of some of his high school teachers, to edit down the footage and type in the subtitles as his mother translated them.
Jad has a website, but would like to share his movie with a wider audience, and is currently looking for a film festival or other place for it.
“It became a responsibility to do this movie,” said Jad. “I hope people see the film and have a new perspective.”