The launch edition of the Jana International Film Festival for Youth and Children was held in 2002. A pioneering initiative for the Arab world, the biennial festival set out to showcase films for young audience – 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 festival, two children committees get formed and trained in critical media: the selection committee for choosing films, and the writers’ committee for issuing a journal dedicated for the festival.
Once the members of the writers’ committee have been trained in creative writing and critique of films, they undergo a similar process that results in the festival newsletter.
Children and youth get invited to screenings that take place in Beirut and in two other places in Lebanon: and also take part in workshops where they learn about animation and sound in films hands on. Many participants, like Fida’a Ayoub [insert link to his: Success Story] years later, qualified this experience as transformative.
Some children had never been to the cinema before and were excited to discover the magic behind 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 films. In addition to these there is also fiction, documentary, and puppets, done by children and young filmmakers, or with their participation.
The subjects the festival have tackled have included racism, Islamophobia, 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 family drama.
One of the merits of the festival is that once the festival is over screenings of selected films, are taken around Lebanon to reach marginalized communities, 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 last festival had a special focus on Conflict Transformation.
The film festivals generally include a morning program for school children in the Greater Beirut area, Saida in the south and Tripoli in the north, and an evening program for youth. The morning program is divided into film screenings and sound 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 of the 2015 festival toured 6 different regions in Lebanon; namely, Beirut, Tripoli, Hermel, Tyre, Nabatiyeh, and Burj El-Barajneh camp. 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 from 15 countries. 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.