TFF 2016 Review: After Spring

The worldwide refugee crisis has displaced a record 60 million people from their homes — the most since the end of World War II. Syria’s civil war alone is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. After Spring, which had its World Premier at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, follows the struggles and triumphs of two Syrian families living in a Jordanian refugee camp as they contemplate an uncertain future.

ABU IBRAHIM used to work in construction. Before arriving at Zaatari, he traveled and worked throughout the Middle East. He even helped install the windows on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. He is the father of two teenagers, Raghad and Ibrahim. Back in Syria RAGHAD, 13, and IBRAHIM, 14, had been at the top of their class. However, after coming to Zaatari, Ibrahim dropped out of school and Raghad is facing difficulties learning in the crowded classrooms. These two siblings struggle to balance their lives as refugees with their desire to be normal teenagers.

MOHAMMED was one of the first people to arrive at Zaatari and he and his family have been there for over two years now. Despite his initial optimism, not much has improved. He has 5 children all below the age of 11 and he misses Syria more than anything. There’s a moment in the film where Mohammed says “Physically, I am here, but mentally and emotionally, I am in Syria”. His wife, Amani, is pregnant and this will be their second child born in the refugee camp.

The film also follows the daily activities of aid workers. From their stories we get a first hand glimpse into what it takes to run the second largest refugee camp in the world. They are faced with the daily struggle of prioritizing aid to those who are most in need.

KILIAN KLEINSCHMIDT is UNHCR Zaatari Camp Manager and helped build the camp in July 2012. Over the last twenty years he has worked at the edge of war zones all over the world from Pakistan to Congo to Somalia. 

MARAM lives in Mafraq Jordan, the neighboring town to Zaatari. Arabic is her first language and she works for UNHCR, counseling refugees as they voice their complaints and concerns. When people can’t come to her, she goes to them, making regular home visits to at-risk people in the camp.

What makes this film so important is that it goes beyond the common brief news bites of world media outlets. The filmmakers were embedded within the camp for months to capture, so candidly, the daily lives of the refugees. It has given a human face to the crisis. What amazes me is that despite all the adversities these families face as they try to maintain some semblance of a normal life in a makeshift city in the middle of the desert, their spirit and hope for a better tomorrow is stronger than most would imagine. Of course some refugees express doubts that the war in Syria will end soon, but many hold on so tightly to that grain of hope that one day they will return to their homeland with an opportunity to rebuild their lives. It’s truly inspiring to see that much hope in people that have so little.

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The filmmakers do an outstanding job of also telling the story from the perspective of the aide workers who fight a daily uphill battle with extremely limited resources. They are responsible for coordinating the delivery of food and clean water, improving shelters and providing families with clothes, mattresses and other household essentials. They also help children cope with trauma and are leading constructive activities to nurture their healthy development. Donations and funding from the UN and organizations like Mercy Corps are just not enough to maintain all these needs for such a large camp.

This film certainly opened my eyes and I hope it gains the audience it deserves and brings awareness to this crisis across the globe. It can be hard for people to take action, especially when it’s something that doesn’t affect them directly or isn’t taking place in their own back yard. Truth be told, it’s everyone’s responsibility. We need to speak out against tyranny and violence, take action and contribute in any way we can, no matter how big or small that contribution may be. 

About the Filmmakers

Ellen Martinez, Director/Producer, was Associate Producer on TESTED, a feature documentary about educational inequality in the NYC public school system. She was a Directors Assistant and has worked in the A.D. and Production Departments for various films in NYC. Ellen has spent over 8 years in the Middle East and lived in Damascus, Syria for four years.

Steph Ching, Director/Producer, was Associate Producer and Additional Editor on the Emmy Nominated documentary, SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON. Other interests include volunteer work, she participated in relief efforts during post-hurricane Katrina and made several trips to Sichuan, China to film testimonies with survivors of the 2008 earthquake. Her grandmother was a refugee in China before finally making her way to the United States.

After Spring Trailer

 After Spring’s Official Website

Additional Background
Zaatari Refugee Camp
MacArthur Foundation Announcement




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