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Istanbul&I’s first short film: Zahi

In 2018, every Saturday, over the course of fourteen month’s our team began preparing a new workshop with the children at Qnushyo in Yedikule. The goal of this project was to capture the many beautiful and funny moments, juxtaposed with the many difficulties faced by these children. This project allowed our team to work together, with the children of Qnushyo to achieve the final result of the project, now known as Istanbul&i’s first short film, Zahi.

Zahi is our first silent short film produced entirely by the efforts of a few Istanbul&I volunteers, starring Syrian refugee children from Qnushyo. The short film follows the story of Zahi, a child with a skin condition known as Vitiligo. Zahi faces constant bullying from classmates and learns how to deal with it and stand up to them with the help of some of his classmates. 

With countless hours and days of shooting, reshooting and editing, we look at this project now with a deep sense of pride and enthusiasm, happy to see the children of Qnushyo making their film debut and allowing them to excel in the acting field.

“Our children were very excited to act in a film for the first time, they always thought that models were the ones who can act in movies and that movies were made (only) in Hollywood. Therefore, their self-confidence increased. This made me proud as the founder of Qnushyo.” 
– Yakup Atug, Founder and Manager of Qnushyo

“A long time after all those sessions and the shooting of the film, seeing such a successful result made me cry the first time I watched it. I felt that all of those challenges we’ve had have a meaning now. We created something with the kids and it’s really heart-warming to watch what we created.”
– Melissa Shahin, Programming Manager at Istanbul&I and Production Assistant of Zahi

Zahi was filmed in Istanbul with the participation of several Syrian children aged between 9-14 years. The children were supervised by a group of Istanbul&I volunteers, divided into two teams. The first team was the filming crew, who managed the participants in the film as well as the technical aspect of the project. The second team focused on supporting the project by managing various activities for the rest of the children from Qnushyo who were not participating. 

In the beginning and before the idea of ​​the short film was born, the team worked for 7 months on weekly workshops that focused on developing storytelling skills for the children, capturing their ideas, and helping them go with their imagination. In the final weeks of that period, the kids also watched a handful of popular short films and joined a discussion about each.

After that, the team worked for another 7 months on the film project with weekly sessions and made a lot of effort to reach the expected result. The team members talked to us about their excitement whilst working on this project, despite the great sensitivity the project required and the challenges that the team faced while managing the children.

“It was definitely a tough process. I believe the project had a really unique nature constituted in the mix of volunteers and refugee children, the lack of time frame and the absence of rules that bind children or staff members to participate which makes motivating them another extra task for the team.. all this was difficult but when I saw how children felt after seeing the project and how proud they were I almost forgot all the difficult process we went through and I couldn’t be more proud and happy for them” 
– Sami Abdulvahit, Project Manager and the Director of Zahi. 

“The filmmaking project started as a series of workshops to help children be familiarized with various aspects of filmmaking such as scriptwriting, acting, and directing. The children are very energetic, and it was sometimes difficult to do the workshops exactly as we planned, but nevertheless, it was always fun and we volunteers learned a lot in the process too. It was also remarkable to see how much the children learned.” 
– Junko Kanero, Co-Executive Coordinator of Istanbul&I and Assistant Editor of Zahi.

Talking about his experience and feelings about the result, Mounzer Masri the Cineamotgrapher of Zahi says: 

“Week by week I was getting surprised by the evolution of everyone who participated in this project. The children were performing better, they were immediately understanding what they should do in front of the camera and they were doing it perfectly. Finally, On the screening day, I saw  the final edited version that all of us worked tirelessly on, in this project. At that moment I realized that we have already made a life-long memorable experience. “ 

Meanwhile Ahmed Ferchichi the Editor and Colorist mentioned the importance of the work and the value it holds: “Great project and noble message. All team members tried their best to achieve such a vision. I am happy to be part of such a team. Such projects deserve more attention and more care because they are made of love and pure intentions. ” 

Zahi was screened in Istanbul&I office at the beginning of the year, and the idea was welcomed and praised by the audience, who showed great appreciation for the hard work put in but also details of the people and the project in its various aspects.

Finally it can be said that Zahi is qualified as an example of voluntary and purposeful artistic work, and an example of projects that focus on empowering displaced/disadvantaged children, enhancing their self-confidence, and building their skills.

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