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Turning Stereotypes Upside Down

Medill student videos to be screened March 10 at Talking Pictures Festival

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In the past few weeks, Brent Huffman -- an award-winning documentary maker and assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University -- has been busily helping his students in Evanston edit their video work in time for the Evanston Talking Pictures Festival. Seven thousand miles away, journalist and Northwestern University-Qatar faculty member Andrew Mills has been doing much the same thing.

Their Medill students’ work – shot in Chicago and in Amman, Jordan -- will be shown in two separate admission-free programs of the Talking Pictures Festival Saturday, March 10, at McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. “Chicago: Up Close and Personal” begins at 1 p.m. “Refugee Lives” begins at 5:30 p.m. Q-and-A sessions with the filmmakers and their professors will follow.

Chicago: Up Close and Personal, March 10, 1 p.m.

The Chicago: Up Close and Personal program features 13 short, emotion-laden works produced by students in Huffman’s undergraduate and graduate documentary courses. Among them are “Love, Dad,” the story of a reformed career burglar and his attempts to reconcile with his family; “Diva,” a portrait of a long-term AIDS survivor who has become a symbol of triumph over AIDS; and “Angela’s Garden,” a Student Emmy Award-nominated work about a west side Chicago resident struggling to maintain a community garden and foster pride in a neighborhood better known for crime than flowers.

Refugee Lives, March 10, 5:30 p.m.

Especially close to Huffman’s heart are the student videos from “Refugee Lives,” a

Medill journalism class created by Professor Jack Doppelt and for which the 5:30 p.m. festival program is named. As part of the one-of-a-kind class, 13 undergraduates from Evanston and Qatar travelled to Amman, Jordan last December. There, according to Huffman, they were asked to create works that would “turn the stereotype of the ‘hopeless, helpless refugee’ on its head.” The results of their hard work follow:

• “Two Tales of Taggers” is about the emergence of graffiti in Amman, the man that residents there call the “godfather of street art” and a younger “tagger” with his own and somewhat different agenda.

• “The Waiting Game” tells the story of two Iraqis living in limbo as they wait to be repatriated. To the amazement and delight of the Northwestern student documentary makers, one of the men got word of his approved resettlement shortly after the students left Jordan. Their documentary includes footage that the documentary makers took of the exuberant man at O’Hare International Airport en route to his soon-to-be new home in Seattle.

• “Soldier of Jerash” chronicles the tireless efforts of a feisty middle-aged community organizer assisting elderly Palestinians living in a refugee camp north of Amman where resources are scarce, the winds blow cold and needs run high.

• “The Shame Game” documents the efforts of two Palestinian teenagers trying to establish a soccer program for girls against the backdrop of the conservative Talbiyeh refugee camp, where many residents believe girls and football are incompatible.  

• “Al Malaath Al Aman” explores the extraordinary stresses placed on the staff and clients of a small health clinic in Amman that finds itself overwhelmed by swelling numbers of refugees in need of medical care.

Other Refugee Lives highlights will include:

• Short documentaries produced by young Palestinian refugees from the Talbiyeh camp who are part of an initiative called the Palestinian Memory Documentation Project. The visiting filmmakers, who call their trip to Northwestern “a dream come true,” will take questions from the audience. The sports-loving 17- and 18-year-old protagonists of “The Shame Game” will be among them.

• “Syrian Refugees in Jordan” – a short documentary recently published by TIME Video and Huffington Post World and created by Medill documentary maker Huffman and New York Times journalist and Medill adjunct lecturer Nadim Audi. Their work documents the Syrian government’s increasingly harsh and oppressive measures against its own citizens. It was accompanied in the Huffington Post by a personal account by Medill junior Lorraine Ma about her Amman interviews with Syrian refugees.

Like many students in “Refugee Lives,” Ma said the course was less a class than a life-transforming experience. Meeting Syrians her own age who said they were prepared to risk death by returning to their homeland and opposing an unjust regime was sobering, she said. “I am so much further (ahead of them) in terms of professionalism, but I am so behind in terms of humanity. I wish I had their courage, their passion.”

For “The Shame Game” co-producer and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences junior Tracey Haneman, meeting and becoming friends with some of the teenagers in the Talbiyeh camp was the most important part of the class.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to meet them and discover just how extraordinary they are,” said Haneman. If Huffman’s efforts to find new distribution outlets for “The Shame Game” and the other student works succeed, more people will be doing just that.

The work in the Refugee Lives class was made possible through the generosity of the AT&T Foundation, Northwestern’s Buffet Center for International  and Comparative Studies, Medill and the Medill RefugeeLives/Immigrant Connect Project.

For more information about the Talking Pictures Festival, visit For more about Refugee Lives, visit

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