The launch edition of the Jana International Film Festival for Children and Youth was held in 2000. A pioneering initiative for the Arab world, the biennial festival set out to showcase films for young audiences – made by youth and child filmmakers from around the world.
The idea behind hosting this festival in Lebanon was for children and youth – particularly from marginalized communities – to be provided with a platform for their creations and a space to express their issues and get introduced to different cultures from around the globe.
In preparation for the festivals, two committees – Children & Youth - get formed and trained in critical media and creative writers’ committee: the idea for these two committees are to analyses the films, share ideas and promote diversity because all the members are from different areas, culture and religions, also to give them keys of critical writing as a festival journalist.
Once the members of the writers’ committee have been trained in creative writing and reviewing films, they undergo a similar process to help them put together the festival newsletter.
Children and youth get invited to screenings that take place in Beirut and around Lebanon and also take part in workshops where they get to discuss films made by their peers or even learn about filmmaking, animation, Pixilation and writing scenario. Many participants, like Fida’a Ayoub years later, qualified this experience as transformative.
Some children and youth had never been to the cinema before and were excited to discover the magic behind the preparation of the festival and its activities as well as filmmaking. The discussions gave them more confidence in expressing their opinions and arguing with others.
The screenings offered them an opportunity to broaden their knowledge about other cultures and issues. The young audiences strongly identified with the line-up, identifying with other children on screen.
The young festival attendants, and workshop participants get familiar with the world of cinema, watch regular short films but also a variety of genres, including animation, fantasy drama, experimental, student, comedy, thriller and children’s and youth films. In addition to these there is also fiction, documentary, animations, and puppets, done by children and young filmmakers, or with their participation.
The subjects the festival have tackled have included family dramas, racism, homelessness, fighting conventions, the power of music and dance and also imagination, coping with trauma and war, friendship, grief and loss, friendship, discrimination, occupation, structural violence, war, racism, harassment, trauma, insecurity and more.
One of the merits of the festival is that the screenings do not only take place in Beirut but the films are taken around Lebanon to reach more audiences, including those who rarely get exposed to culture and the magic of film.
Mottos for past editions of the festival included Youth on the Margin Create their World (2007, 2011 and 2009), A Door to Multiculturalism (2013), and Networking for Change (2015). The festivals all had a special focus on diversity.
The film festivals generally include a morning program for school children in the Greater Beirut area, and an evening program for the general public. The morning program is divided into film screenings and film and animation workshops for children. These programs host over a thousand children over four days and with disadvantaged children from public and private schools as well as organizations working with disadvantaged children in Lebanon.
The evening program toured 6 different regions – South, North, Mount of Lebanon and East/Baalbeck - in Lebanon. The diversity of selected films offered the audience a hands-on experience with the global meaning of difference in the lives of people. Selected films featured local, Arab and international youth productions. With the diversity in selections and screenings, the festival attempts to reflect the social reality from various countries, in all its challenges and from different perspectives. The screenings offered an opportunity for the children to broaden their knowledge about other cultures and issues.
On another level, the film festival encourages children and youth to produce films that reflect their own narratives and realities. It also fortifies their sense of identity and their capacities to cooperate and work together as a group to achieve a common objective. Finally, it develops their sense of analysis and social reflection and engagement.