Posted on November 28, 2013

‘Once we were silent, then we were given a voice, now we have our own voice’ was the powerful and inspiring message delivered by a group of youth performers at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Ajyal Youth Film Festival (AYFF) presented by the Doha Film Institute.

The cast of young people, ranging from 15 to 26 from around the world, spoke, sang, played instruments, recited poetry and rapped in a bid to demonstrate younger generational media consumption habits, “We’re the social media generation, we fill our PVRs with series of American Idol and Australian Masterchef, watch box sets of How I Met Your Mother in one go and listen to Sherlock on our mobile phones – or is that just me?”

“We have lost faith in the news channels, we want news that relates to and impacts us and to be informed by those we trust, not just men in suits” said another during the short presentation.

In her opening remarks, Ajyal Youth Film Festival director Fatma Al Remaihi said the aim of the industry forum was to “bring together local, regional and international experts working in Children and Youth Media who are keen to collaborate and exchange knowledge to support us on this journey of placing OUR CHILDREN FIRST”.

“Our intent is to support the development of youth media in the Middle East and North Africa region and collaborate with partners who will work with us to find solutions and opportunities for quality media in the region. We have designed the inaugural program keeping your expertise, sound knowledge and genuine interest towards developing quality original content for children in mind.”

Going on to explain the meaning of Ajyal and it’s mission, Al Remaihi added, “Ajyal means ‘generations’ and in many ways we are presenting ‘generations’ in terms of people, projects, products and technologies … we are using this forum to bring the generations together under the umbrella of media and young people.”

Industry representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe, USA, Latin America and the Middle East formed the first panel. Each presented a short synopsis of the health and availability of children and youth media from their markets, with the majority warning against generic global acquired content becoming the only staple for youth, confirming that more locally produced programming would be the only way for children to be able to develop a clear sense of cultural identity.

“One of the most important factors today is that our children are learning only one language. This forces children to become global citizens and we are running the risk of losing touch with individual cultures and language. We need locally produced children’s content that reflects regional lives” said Sami Raffoul, CEO, Pan Arab Research Centre.

Fatma Mohamed Alloo, Board Member, Zanzibar Film Festival said, “It’s important that the content you create relates to people’s lives, youth need to create their own content”. Christine Mendoza, Director of Research and Evaluation at Education Video Centre, USA added “We need more media by youth, for youth.”

Children were also highlighted as Digital Natives, during the second session that provided examples of media literacy best practise and training programmes from Ethiopia, Lebanon and India. Youth produced content from Qatar and India was also screened. “Reading and writing doesn’t do it anymore, you need be media literate” summed up Rania Khaled Al Hussaini from the Doha Centre for Media Freedom.

Screenwriter Mohammed Hassan Ahmed talked about scriptwriting as the backbone of filmmaking and said workshops we aimed at addressing “how young children deal with the language of cinema and deconstruct the culture of cinema.”

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In addition to creating original youth content, the recurring theme of the morning was panellists discussing the need for media to help to shape younger generational minds. “Extreme factors in many of our countries limit the youth and the role of media have the power to define young minds. We control the power to show images of peace, or fan the flames of hatred. The media has to decide the role it plays today and if it will be used as a medium to promote violence and extremisms or equality, tolerance and light,” said Monezza Hashmi, General Manager International Relations, HUM TV Pakistan.

An insightful discussion on ‘social media and games’ debated the impact of social gaming on youth. The panellists called for integrating strong value systems into the games, thus promoting better engagement with the youth and inspiring them to become socially responsible individuals.  Highlighting the potential of growth for the gaming industry in the Middle East, Ammar Mohammed, a social media expert from Qatar, said the country offers a solid platform for developing new Apps and games.

Presenting interesting facts on social gaming, Hani Orfali, Managing Director of DistincTopia, said the average age of gamers on Facebook is 43 years and that gaming products are increasingly targeting adults because they are the big spenders. He said that while the traditional toys market in the Middle East region is valued at US$5.3 billion, online gaming is only US$1.4 billion,  unlike in the West where the values are almost equal. However, the region has a very high smartphone penetration rate, which has shifted the emphasis to developing more Apps. Engaging with every stakeholder and localizing content will drive the growth of the social gaming sector, he observed.

Annika Olofsdotter, Game Researcher with Sweden’s Sodertorn University, said it is important to discuss ‘who makes games for whom and to what consequences.’ The panellists were united in their view that gaming has its benefits on children, reminding audiences the actual number of games with violent content being produced on a per year basis has not increased in the last 15 years. “It is the consumption of violent games that has increased not the production,” said Orfali, adding that the elements of a successful social game today are simplicity – which enables access to more gamers, and limited play time per level to make it more engaging.

Ajyal Youth Film Festival builds on the Doha Film Institute's history of community-based programming. Ajyal invites generations to come together to discuss cinema through workshops that inspire creative interaction, opening up a fun, collaborative environment where young people can express themselves.

Tickets are available at the Box Office of the Ajyal Youth Film Festival, in The Cultural Village Katara and City Centre. For more details on the programme, please visit: www.dohafilminstitute.com.

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