A few weeks ago, I volunteered at Together Through Film, a weekend outdoor activity camp with 18 teenagers from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The group was made up of a mix of Muslim, Jewish and Christian youth, some religious and others secular. What brought this group together was their passion to learn about each other’s religions, traditions and beliefs, in addition to their interest in filmmaking. The camp was organized by Danya Hakeem of National Geographic and her fantastic team of volunteers, who are also filmmakers from National Geographic, where I am an “Emerging Explorer” – and the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at George Mason University.
With professional guidance, and a lot of fun spent in the outdoors, these teenagers were able to spend three days tackling interfaith and religious issues through filmmaking. The end result was a short film produced, filmed and edited by the participants.
Religion has been misused so often to perpetrate conflict and hatred. However, there are many religious people from every religion who don’t subscribe to messages of hatred or violence in the name of their religion. This weekend was geared toward facilitating an open discussion about religion and highlighting relationships on a human level, regardless of religious background.
The mentors taught the students how to produce a professional-quality film, of which they can be very proud. The teenagers broke into three thematic teams – nature, the big city, and friends and family – and created their own idea, storyboarded it and then wrote a script. They did all the shooting and editing of the film, from their tents and back in the city.
This week, the CRDC hosted the premier screening and a panel discussing the film for the students and their parents. Friendships have been built and lives changed. These teenagers shared how relationships are built on a human level, not based on religious background. It was moving to see Christian and Jewish teenagers fast with one of the Muslim participants in their group to encourage him, to show solidarity and simply to learn. They tackled important and hard issues but also enjoyed their time, away from their usual routines. They learned that conflict resolution and peace-building can be also exciting and fun.
We cannot wait for politicians to make peace. We cannot let politicians keep drawing new lines that separate people into subgroups. These teenagers didn’t wait for peace to come to them by a politician, they pursued it. They overcame the fear that the community often instills in their hearts.
They are stars, not just because they produced and directed a marvelous film, but because they took the time to learn about each other’s religion, culture and history – and simply about one another.
Watch behind the scenes video: