Last week, Media Studies professor Nitin Sawhney screened and discussed the documentary film Flying Paper at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Co-directed by Sawhney and Roger Hill, Flying Paper is about three children living in the Gaza Strip who take part in a Guinness Book of World Records attempt to fly 7,500 kites simultaneously. Speaking on the opening panel with Prof. Sawhney was Mr. Robert Turner, Director of Operations for the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, Ms. Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, and Ms. Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the UN and Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, who chaired the discussion. The screening was held in conjunction with Turner’s briefing about his recent return from the Gaza Strip.
While Turner reported about the deteriorating conditions in Gaza emerging from the Israeli blockade, Flying Paper tells the story of ambitious and resilient children who are boldly determined to live out a “normal” childhood under the occupation. The kites provide an emblem of hope and free expression, as well as a stark contrast to the children’s surroundings; shots of the landscape depict Gaza as a perpetual construction zone, and retellings of Israeli bombing campaigns remind the viewer of the devastation and instability in these children’s lives.
The film follows the narrative of Musa and his sister Widad as they build and test kites for the upcoming record attempt. Abeer, 16, is a perceptive aspiring journalist who not only provides astute descriptions of her life under the occupation, but also works with the production team, filming and conducting insightful interviews with the children when Sawhney or Hill were restricted from entering Gaza themselves. The children are smart, resourceful, and dedicated to their personal dreams and goals.
After the screening, Director of Outreach Division at UN Department of Public Information Maher Nasser asked why the movie was titled Flying Paper and not kites, Sawhney stated, “The title was chosen by young Palestinian kids themselves.” In Arabic the title literally translates as a paper that is flying. “A symbolism in flight in being able to have the freedom to leave, which these kids talk about,” it also symbolizes the “constant struggle and the freedom to play and to do what they want.” Sawhney also explained that he kept it simple, “but the symbolism shows up in the film itself.” The symbolism of liberation is projected by interludes of an animated kite narrowly escaping a sea dragon, floating among drones and tanks and attempting to break from barbed wire fences and other oppressive obstacles of war. Because Flying Paper is a participatory media piece, produced by the characters as well as by the filmmakers, the children’s excitement and energy is contagious and persistently uplifting. Sawhney intends for Flying Paper to be screened more widely among international audiences to highlight the plight of Palestinian youth in Gaza and spur a conversation about creative resilience despite the odds among young people everywhere.
The event can be viewed here.
Both Nitin Sawhney and Rafael Parra teach at the School of Media Studies.
This post originally appeared on Stories from The New School for Public Engagement blog.