Sunday, February 28, 2021

First film made about Rohingya Genocide screened, Q&A

Yusuf Zine documented the state-sponsored attacks on the Rohingya, an indiginous Muslim minority in Myanmar, formally known as Burma, in his film “I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts.” The film was shown in Yokum 208 Tuesday at 7 p.m.

It was the second film this semester put on by the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies in collaboration with Adirondak Voters for Change and the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties.

The film shows 14 refugee youths who have immigrated to Ontario, Canada, preparing and performing a play. The entire script was based off experiences they had been through when they lived in Myanmar.

Zine was doing a summer internship with a social services organization when he was assigned to do a project with the Rohingya youths. The government provided funding for the project, instructing him to do a series of workshops on topics like anger management and drug abuse.

“I wasn’t qualified to do any of that, so I called the kids up and met with them and laid out that we had this funding and all summer and asked, ‘What do you guys want to do?’”

The eldest of the group Ahmed Ullah suggested doing a play.

“I grew up doing theater and still do theater, and the idea of them reenacting their experiences excited me,” Zine said.

Many of the youths’ stories were shown throughout the film. It shows many of them in their homes talking about their families and sharing traditional food and dress. Ullah’s story is highlighted as he goes through a legal battle to become the legal guardian of his baby brother.

Zine met with the refugee youths every week for nine months.

“Originally my idea was for the kids to write the script and then that kind of all fell apart because getting 14 kids to write one script didn’t work out,” Zine said. “I asked them, ‘Is it OK if I take your stories, and I turn it into a script?’”

The film opens in the dressing room before the play, a nervous buzz about the room as the actors prepared to go on stage in front of a sold out audience. The scenes alternate between footage of the play and videos of Rohingya people being persecuted in their own land by the government and Buddhist extremists.

It featured interviews with journalists who covered the issue, parents of the children and a Buddhist monk living in Canada. The monk claimed Burma is a soft, safe place to live for everyone and called a video of Burmese police beating a Rohingya in the street calling it “fake news.”

“The kids really helped me through it because I’m not Rohingya and I was working on a show that is sensitive subject matter, so I really relied on the community to make sure we were getting it right and being authentic,” Zine said. “The parents would come in and watch rehearsal, and we showed them the play before we showed it to everyone to get their approval.”

Zine directed the film and the play. “I Am Rohingya” is the first and only film made about the Rohingya genocide.

“There’s a lot of good energy on college campuses,” Immigrant Community Navigator for the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties Kim La Reau said. “You have representation of different perspectives and people are in a mindset to think about these things there’s a lot of potential to carry this message further.”

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