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Aljudhur - Documentary Film

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Aljudhur - Documentary Film
Last March, Maeve McGuinness and Ronan Furuta had the opportunity to visit Jordan as a part of an undergraduate course at Champlain College. While we loved watching sunrises in the Wadi Rum, visiting mosques in Amman, and exploring the ancient ruins scattered across the country, the most impactful part of our trip was visiting the Azraq Education Center.

Based in Azraq, a tiny town on the outskirts of Jordan, the Azraq education center provides life changing education and services to Syrian refugee children who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. From the moment we stepped foot on their beautiful campus, the students flocked around us, wanting to show their state of the art classrooms and shaded play structures. We spent much longer than anticipated that day laughing with the kids and listening to the center’s staff enthusiastically describe the various programs and services they are able to provide for their community.

The center’s goal is to compensate for their students' lack of education and provide them skills to enable them to graduate, find jobs, and establish roots in Jordan. They are constantly innovating through a number of ways to achieve this goal. Some examples are:

  • Their certified Montessori preschool.
  • Their development of a hydroponic agriculture system to provide their own food.
  • Exchange programs with schools in the U.S. and other countries.
  • Coding programs.
  • Art therapy programs.
  • Hearing aides and physical therapy for students who have been injured during the war.
  • Test prep to enable their students to go to universities in Jordan.
  • Primarily hiring from the community they serve.
  • Providing food for their students’ families and the greater community.
  • Free medical consultations from visiting doctors.
  • 100% solar powered and recently renovated, state of the art campus with air conditioning.

In addition to being the only site of education available for refugee children, the Azraq center has become an economic engine for this small town, providing jobs and stimulating the local economy.
Perhaps most importantly however, is the first thing we noticed about the center: just how happy and full of joy their students are. These kids who have been forced to flee their homes and have experienced all of the trauma that fleeing from conflict induces, have been given an opportunity to be children once again. They have a space to run, play, and enjoy themselves.

We rode away from the center that day in an inspired silence. We knew we needed to do something to try to support this beautiful place.

Our first initiative to support the Azraq Education Center was hosting a Jordanian cuisine popup dinner. We gathered recipes of the food that we loved so much during our trip and served them to the public at a community kitchen in the Old North End. We raised over $2,700 during our first night and we are planning on hosting another dinner this winter. These funds were raised to support the center’s purchasing of computers for their students’ use.

Our next project has two primary components and is what we are requesting funding for. The first is a narrative filmmaking workshop we will put on for the older students at the center. We’ve talked a lot with the center’s administration, and they have made clear the impact that enrichment programs and getting to see others’ passion has on their students. We chose to teach filmmaking not only because it is a powerful means of self expression, but because it is a highly technical and collaborative art form. In the session, we will go over the basics of filmmaking and narrative storytelling and by the end, the students will have conceived, shot, and edited their very own short films.

In each stage of filmmaking, we will touch upon a range of different skills:

The three act story structure
Different shot types and their impact on the viewer
How to shot list and storyboard your film
How to plan out shooting days

DSLR camera operation
Collaboration and role delineation on set
Basics of lighting and light modification with natural and practical lights
Basics of recording sync sound

Basics of editing with Davinci Resolve
File management and post production workflow
How to render and deliver
This collaborative, hands-on, and technical education is a great fit for the center as it aligns with their goals of providing an enriching and skill building education to their students. We are partnering with the Media Factory and Champlain’s School of Social Innovation to develop our curriculum for this workshop.

Over the course of the week we will be staying at the center teaching the workshop, we will also be working on the second component of our project - The documentary film.

What happens when a small team of women decide to do something about the Syrian refugee crisis? – This is the question we will answer with our 20 minute documentary, “Aljudhur” (roots in Arabic). The media is filled with stories othering refugees and creating narratives of fear. Instead, our documentary will highlight their humanness and how by being kind to one another we can lift each other up. The film will tell the inspiring story of the women who founded and developed the center from its initial $200 budget and tent classrooms to its current beautiful campus and $650,000 annual budget that serves 400 students and their community. The film will show how just a few people were able to create such a huge, real-world impact. This documentary won’t just be an inspiring story of activism, it will also be a crucial story about refugees

More information about the film can be found on our website:

These are not small projects. They’ve involved months of research, preparation, and development to even get to the funding stage. We are not taking the scope of this work lightly and are taking all precautionary steps to ensure a safe and effective trip to Jordan. Along with our faculty advisors at Champlain, Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker Kelly Nyks (Requiem for the American Dream, The Age of Consequences) has signed on as an industry advisor. He has provided invaluable connections and insight about international filmmaking, funding, and story development. Additionally, we have been getting support and advice from the Overseas Press Club of America as well as donated camera equipment from the Media Factory. Once we have the funding secured, we will be reaching out to the U.S. ambassador in Jordan as well as the Jordanian ambassador in Washington to ensure our visit details appropriately align with any broader international considerations.

The Team:
Ronan Furuta
Ronan is a Degree Design Lab Major at Champlain College. He has been making documentary films for the past 8 years with films screened in festivals across the country. Currently, he is the editor and associate producer of a documentary film directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Kelly Nyks. The film is set to be nationally distributed in 2024. Kelly and Ronan are also collaborating on piloting other documentary series and features. Previously, Ronan taught at and developed curriculum for a wilderness primitive skills school for five years. He coordinated and trained a team of 20 instructors and advised them on their curriculum. This work has provided him with experience teaching hands-on skills (like filmmaking) and working with students of all ages. When not in the studio, Ronan loves going on long hikes with his camera.

Maeve McGuinness
Maeve McGuinness has been a Resident Advisor at Champlain College for the past 3 years, two of which she served as the Lead Resident Advisor of her area. Maeve spent her time in college studying Graphic Design, where she enjoyed cultivating rapport with her professors as well as developing her design sensibilities. These design sensibilities will offer important compositional knowledge within the scope of creating a documentary film with a strong aesthetic draw. Additionally, Maeve coordinated the Roots for Refugees pop-up dinner last spring. She worked with our team of five to host a dinner serving over sixty individuals and raised over $2400 for the Azraq Education fund. As a coordinator of this event, she was able to refine her skills in budgeting, team building, and outreach.

Dr. Cynthia Brandenburg
Faculty Advisor
Cyndi was trained as a neuroscientist, but currently teaches an array of integrated and inquiry-based courses that are arguably quite different from her more traditional academic roots. She is particularly interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in general, and Interdisciplinarity and Integration in particular, with an eye towards fusing such seemingly disparate fields as the Sciences and the Humanities. Cyndi is a Professor in Champlain College's Core Division, Lead Faculty for the Degree Design Lab, and serves as the Assistant Provost. In that role, she works to support curricular innovations that are interdisciplinary, customizable, and predicated on experiential and project-based learning.

Dr. Michael Kelly
Faculty Advisor
Mike is a recovering English professor turned interdisciplinarian whose teaching and scholarship centers on the application of integrative thinking to better understand the ways systems and structures shape the larger world. He holds the rank of Professor in the Core Division and Champlain College and is a lead faculty in the school’s Degree Design Lab- a degree program that allows students to customize their academic and professional interests in ways that prepare them for the cross-cutting skills necessary for an uncertain future of work.

Kelly Nyks
Film Industry Advisor
Kelly Nyks is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and NY Times best selling writer who has worked across the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Arctic and Asia on films which investigate some of the most critical issues of our time including climate change, social inequality and institutionalized injustice. Feature titles include REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM, THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES, DISRUPTION, DO THE MATH, DISOBEDIENCE, SPLIT: A DIVIDED AMERICA and SPLIT: A DEEPER DIVIDE, which have aired in over 50 countries on over 20 broadcasters including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, IFC, PBS, and Starz. They have enjoyed both critical acclaim and audience favorite awards at marquee festivals worldwide including Sundance, Tribeca, IDFA, HotDocs, Sheffield, AFI Docs, CPHDOX, DOC NYC. A US State Department Cultural Ambassador, he recently served as Artist in Residence in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.

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Ronan Furuta
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