Cinema for Refugees in Greece
£4,216 of £4,000 goal
Moving Pictures is taking a mobile cinema to mainland Europe to play movies for refugees. By taking a cinema on the road we aim to inspire, and however briefly- to offer some escape from difficult circumstances. We see this project as a statement of solidarity with all displaced peoples and a means to empower action and awareness for political change and basic human rights.
The last 12 months have been spent building and buying everything necessary to get the show on the road. This includes but is not limited to- a van (with insurance, tax, lining, repairs), 6000 lumen projector, 1.2Kw PA system with desk, 1.6Kw suitcase generator, 2m tripod screen, 4m fastfold screen (very generously donated by Lumen) and all the little fiddly bits. The grand result is a compact, portable, high-quality cinema that can cater for audiences of up to 200+ people, with its own independent power supply. When recently tallied the total cost came to about £7000 and because we paid for all that ourselves, now we've got no money left!
We are asking for your help with running costs for the first trip. This includes money for fuel, maintenence, ferry crossings and road tolls- travelling approximately 5000 miles from Yorkshire, England to Athens, Greece. We will stop at camps and improptu sites en-route and on return. Having already made most of the preparations we're taking the show on the road as soon as possible. How soon we can leave and how many camps we can reach will be up to you.
Please be generous, give what you can and spread the word! After paying for the whole cinema, we've given everything we have, now we need your help with the final hurdle. There's no overheads, no bureaucracy and no wishy washy talk- it's built and ready to go right now. You can be assured that every single penny donated will go directly to the cause. As soon as we have raised our target, we can set off.
It's easy to be feel upset and powerless to help with what's happening right now in Europe, especially when Governments are not responding to the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation. We believe we've found a unique, specific and achievable way to help. As I'm sure you know, the real difference being made in the refugee crisis is by volunteers and the thousands of amazing people that support them.
The Moving Picture project was created by Shireen Farkhoy and William Johnson. Both were born some thirty or so years ago in Yorkshire. Shireen is an actress and William is an artist, his blog is online here.
Please help us to bring some light to people who are facing a bitterly cold winter, because when people have nothing, a little humanity means everything.
Shireen and William.
This is a brief update to say that despite investigating and pursuing many options for new cinema locations including Lebanon, the project will close down for now.
Remaining funds left after all expenses were £353.
After deciding to close the project I felt this money was best donated to one of the groups that the cinema visited in Greece. All projects were equally in need. In the end I decided to donate the remaining funds to City Plaza hotel in Athens:
Attached is the transfer receipt.
Once again I'd like to thank everyone who supported our project, helping us to support refugees. We hope to return with something in the not too distant future. In the meantime, please have a look at the work being done by volunteers on the ground. You may not be reading about refugees everyday in the newspaper, but the situation is as serious today as it's ever been:
To name just a few,
I’d had a nice night but I wanted to go to bed, I still had to drive round the island then unpack the van to make space to sleep. Having a van I’ll always try and give one or two or three people a lift somewhere before I do, if I can. Off-the-cuff the Syrian joker said they’d been given a mansion to stay in- “you can come”. At this point after 5 weeks in a tiny van a mansion would be somewhere indoors, with a toilet and a tap. In fact forget that- just a ceiling would be glorious. Things dragged on and on, as they do when you have people after a few beers with a tenuous promise, it’s late, I’m sober and too tired to feign interest. The crew eventually came together, a few turned into many and as two little vans we quickly found ourselves sneaking round empty dark winding olive grove dirt roads and secluded harbours eventually to the corrugated concrete you find in rural Greece on steep inclines. Single file. Up through trees, to the right and to a long gate, the kind in front of houses never seen. “We’re here.”
He wasn’t lying. The house had it’s own olive, lemon, even pomegranate trees. A look at the sat nav showed it occupied the peninsula, sea on all sides. We bimbled out the vans and found our way through the dark to the house. Opening the old wooden shutters and inside to find a beautiful rustic country interior. Inside is a pair of the same English kevlar-coned speakers I have at home, I smile to myself as we all set about our various roles, I look how to switch the stereo on, find the mini-jack under the table and moments later Thelonious Monk is playing in the corner.
Next morning, past the litter of puppies on olive nets and over to the van. If you’re going to meet an army Major; don’t be late. The front tyre is almost flat. Maybe I can get it the 8Km to the garage. Despite roads of all flavours I arrive and I’m talking with the old gent again, the way you do when neither of you speak the same language. A bloke on the street is smoking a cigarette, he comes across to help. He works for Medecins Sans Frontieres as a driver. “He’ll take it off and see if it can be repaired, if not they’ll put an old one on.” I set off on foot to the city for some cash. By the time I’m back twenty or thirty minutes later everything is back to normal. “Nail in the tyre. They patched it, had it fixed in no time. Yeah, it'll get you back to England no problem.”
“€10” says the old timer. Deal... time to spare.
“Dress up smart if you can, and remember- he’s always right,” she tells me, so I put on some Gore-Tex. The Major’s interpreter looks down- “I like your boots… Heavy-Duty.” In the meeting it’s clear that I need space they don’t have, anything with any cover is full of tents, anything indoors is full of people. A little search online for images of Moria camp and you’ll see what I mean- it’s triple over capacity. I tell him I’ve been in contact with the section co-ordinator for vulnerable families and unaccompanied minors so he tells me I should go and speak with him, because the main camp has no space.
A few hours later I’m waiting at the main gate two minutes around the corner, negotiating the various stages of security. The police officer starts to take my passport but seeing the look in my eye as she’s walking away she gives it back. On return she takes me to the section co-ordinator. In the office I meet a wonderful tall kind man, he apologises that he’s very busy but is eager to help, having been told about the cinema he tells me the idea moved him and he wants to make it happen. We visit the spaces, it all seems straight forwards, all the while any phone in the vicinity is ringing loud with demands to be immediately fulfilled. He prints the specific clearance for us and the vehicle, we shake hands and everything is ready for the following evening. We’ll arrive for 6:30pm, two cinema showings one after the other in two separate locations right next to each other, to be finished for 11:30pm.
Absolutely no photography was allowed that following evening. I’ve written about those cinema showings and that writing has been approved and authorised by Moria camp management for sharing with you all, so I’ll defer to that original description:
Last nights cinema showings took place at Moria camp. The cinema played twice, in two different locations, one after the other. The first showing took place in a secure compound for vulnerable families- an audience of very young children and their parents. The next showing happened straight after in the adjacent compound for unaccompanied minors- an audience of young teenagers.
Refugees in these areas cannot leave Lesvos island until their asylum application is processed and this can take many months. In the vulnerable families compound, while I carry gear to the first box to setup, the children play football in the alley, but they regularly kick the ball up onto the roof only 12ft above and it gets stuck in the razor wire that covers the ceiling and surrounds every fence and roof in the camp. A young boy climbs on top of a phone box to see if he can reach into the razor wire to get the ball. He is told to get down and ask for help at the office.
We're on the clock, there's 5 hours permitted access, two sites, setup and take down twice takes 2 hours plus the now familiar- kids open the door, room flooded with kids, attempt to get kids out of room, start again, repeat. Once we're ready in the first box we can't find a light switch. After some investigation we find out there isn't one. There is no way to switch off the lights without killing the power to the whole room. There's no alternative so we show the cartoons and movie to the children with the lights on. Thankfully it's a very bright projector, the children laugh and enjoy themselves and their parents do too. 51 attendees.
We pack down and setup in record time in the parallel compound in an identical box ready for the next showing for group of teenagers with vastly different backgrounds that all speak different languages- they have one request- they want action. So I choose the movie I did for the adults some nights ago. After it finishes and everyone has left, one young man stays behind to watch us pack up. He is asked what kind of movies he likes. He points at the screen and says "those kind". 36 attendees.
The harder it is to gain access to a camp, the less chance there is that refugees receive cultural activities from the outside. The vulnerable families and unaccompanied minors compounds are the most restricted in Moria and Moria is one of the most restricted closed camps in Greece. We owe our access to the hard work and trust of some very talented people. I'd like to thank the Major, the section coordinator and Chris at Help Refugees for making this possible.
The day after Christmas Day I set off for another site on Lesvos where vulnerable refugee families are being cared for. Word was out that the cinema was on the island so people were excited. A brief tour and discussion and a cinema showing was booked for the following night. I started to notice that not long after I arrived on Lesvos, the front right tyre was losing pressure rather quickly so I spent the rest of the day looking for solutions. No-one on the island stocked this particular all season tyre, to have a new one sent from the mainland would take 3 days and cost an eye-watering €126+. For one tyre. Checking these prices at 3 garages and they all came back the same, even replacing it with a different inferior generic brand, it was going to cost a fortune. Several long and tedious hours had passed on the trudge round different mechanics so I decided to move on and drove round the Mytilene headland to park up and decide what to do. I munched a packet of nuts and cranberries, leaned back and looked to my left to see a big weathered old Goodyear sign- why not, lets give that a look. I drove over, went in and was told by an old gent with storied cloudy eyes that they don’t have that tyre either, but they can put an old tyre on for €25. Sounds like a good backup plan I thought and it felt like the right place. I filled up the suspect tyre to a decent pressure and left it for the day.
Arriving at the refugee camp in the evening, the setup by now had become quite automatic as things do when you’ve done it a dozen times, but each time is a new place so there’s always a thing or three to keep you guessing. This time it was power, rigging the entire setup ready and the plug not working, so moving all the cables from one side to the other the long way round. I’ve felt awkward about the tripod screen since day one. It’s flimsy, and after talking with various people- apparently they are in general. This one had been curling at the sides and instead of getting better like I assumed it would, its got worse. What’s more irritating is that the screen is never straight, and needs adjustment every time. So like I always do, I’d pull it out, get it ready then try and straighten the bottom. This time round it wasn’t having it, wouldn’t straighten and jumped off the top catch and aggressively collapsed on itself. Oh dear. I pulled it back out from the lower casing and discovered that finally, what I’d been expecting since day one had finally happened- the screen had damaged itself. The flimsy design had collapsed and the collapse had crumpled the surface and put a small hole in the screen.
I started the cinema running only a few minutes behind schedule, the hall filled up and what you can’t see in the photos is the rest of the hall full of parents and children behind the camera. With the elevated angle and a bit of distance- you couldn’t see the damage to the screen. A full house, lots of laughter and a great evening with 87 in attendance. After the show packing up, there were lots of helping hands, enthusiastic faces, warm comments. For me personally I knew that evening that the trip was coming to a close. I’d already driven much further and been on the road much longer than I’d made plans for and I knew it was time to start thinking about the 2500 mile trip home. The next morning I have a meeting with the Major at Moria camp. The biggest and most overcrowded refugee camp in Greece seemed like an appropriate place to do the final show.
Christmas day I drove across to the No Borders Community space. Setting up in the largest area after food distribution seemed to be the best plan, this time taking the generator up and out the top of the building.
By about midday the music was running and we had ourselves a Christmas Day Party. The familiar battle for who puts their music on began again, but on cue arrived an Algerian DJ who plays in Casablanca. He became chief negotiator and everything ran smooth from there on out. The women don't dance with the men, in the future I aspire to host more women-only events, we tried throughout the trip, we'll keep trying.
It was completely obvious to me how much the music was needed, afternoon dancing like being freed from a bad dream- completely relaxed, together and happy.
"Christmas day was the best day I remember in the social center. Music makes such a difference, everyone was having so much fun. I laughed tears and had goosebumps. I think projects like yours really make a difference." Vonne, International long-term volunteer
Congratulations Will and Shireen on a successful and truly inspiring example of what can be achieved if you put your mind to it. Where there's a Will there's a way! Will, looking forward to your thoughts on your experience once you're home safely and it all sinks in what you've managed to accomplish together.
Great to read your updates Will and see that all your plans are coming to fruition. Spent some time chatting with your Mum last week in Barnsley where we were both at the theatre to watch Shireen perform in The Collector. It's lovely of her to continue to support Shireen in her acting. Hope you manage to sort your clutch out and wish you continued success in your progress towards Greece. Take great care. xx
Safe journey home.!