'After Spring': Tribeca Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Puts a needed human face on the critical refugee crisis.

Jon Stewart is the co-executive producer of this documentary focusing on the people living in Zaatari, the largest camp in the world for Syrian refugees.

The statistics concerning Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, are startling. Built in 2012, a year after Syria broke out in violent revolution, it is now the largest camp in the world for the country's refugees. It has some 80,000 residents, more than half of whom are children. Five thousand babies have been born there since it opened. It even has its own Twitter feed.

But those are just facts. Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching's documentary After Spring — executive produced by Jon Stewart and receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival — puts a very human face on the refugee crisis … or, to be more accurate, many human faces.

Snippets from home movies provide an illustration of Syria before the war, with scenes of people shopping, dancing, sunning themselves on the beach and visiting the "Happy Land" amusement park. The images represent a stark contract to the current lives of Zaatari's residents, with several of them nostalgically recalling happier times for the camera.

But life goes on, as it always does. The camp is in effect a functioning city — indeed, by population it would rank as the fourth largest city in Jordan—and it bustles with activity, including restaurants and retail shops. A Korean instructor offers courses in Tae Kwan Do. There's even a pet shop that sells birds.

"Even in tents, having a bird gives you the feeling of being alive," asserts the shop's proprietor, who's clearly well versed in marketing techniques.

The film focuses on several of the camp's residents, including Abu Ibrahim, a former construction worker, and his two teenage children, Raghad, age 13, and Ibahim, age 14, who must somehow find a way to live normal teenage lives in their artificial environment. Then there's Mohammed, who deeply misses his native country; he and his wife Amani have five young children, two of them born in the camp, with a sixth on the way.

We're also introduced to Kilian Kleinschmidt, the camp's indomitable manager who clearly takes a hands-on approach to overseeing his charges and who laments that many of the younger residents are foregoing an education and heading down a troubled path.

With no end in sight to the violence in the region, the residents of Zaatari are forced to contemplate an indefinite future living in tents and struggling to achieve a semblance of normalcy. After Spring shines a vital spotlight on their travails.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival

Production: Busboy Productions

Directors/producers: Ellen Martinez, Steph Ching

Executive producers: Jon Stewart, Chris McShane

Directors of photography: Frank Weiss,Jason Graham Howell

Editor: Paul Lovelace

Composer: Katy Jarzebowski

Not rated, 98 minutes

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