One of the highlights of the Belmont World Film’s 15th annual Family Festival (Jan. 12-15) is “Brave & Amazing Children,” a program of four short documentaries from the Netherlands.
Without preaching, these films share the experiences of refugee and immigrant kids from the Middle East and North Africa as they to try find permanent homes in safe countries and integrate themselves into new communities. Engaging, empathetic, and enlightening, they teach tolerance, compassion, inclusiveness, and courage — lessons adults can benefit from as well.
Professional politicians, for example, might learn a few things from 11-year-old Dutch-Moroccan Yassine in Susan Koenen’s “The Children’s Mayor.” Awarded the annual office of the title by his hometown of Gouda, the Netherlands, Yassine takes his job seriously. He recognizes that people from his country are sometimes poorly regarded and unfairly treated by the native Dutch, so he devises a plan to improve the situation. He visits local schools and asks the students to “swap lives” with someone from another culture by exchanging information and connecting online.
Then he encourages them to share their experiences online under the hashtag #WeAreConnected. When his year’s tenure is up, the ambitious Yassine gives a speech in which he thanks the real mayor of the city for sharing his expertise — it will come in handy, Yassine says, when he one day takes the mayor’s job.
Also giving back to his adopted community is the title 12-year-old Syrian refugee in “Ahmad’s Hair,” another film by Koenen. Ahmad’s first appearance on screen is a little startling — he has curly, shoulder-length locks. He’s growing his hair to donate to young cancer victims who are bald from chemotherapy. As he waits for it to grow to the required length, he tries to make new friends while overcoming his isolation in his new community and his memories of the Syrian civil war.
The 11-year-old Libyan refugee featured in Els van Driel’s “Safia’s Summer” likewise suffers from a traumatic past and ongoing isolation in the Dutch refugee center where she has lived for many months. Her friends have all left for permanent homes, but her family still waits for residency papers. The highpoint of her year is a week in summer camp where she can bond with other child refugees and forget the loss of her happy home in Libya, the horrors of civil war, and the perils of her family’s escape by sea.
The 10-year-old Christian girl in Mirjam Marks’s “Merna in the Spotlight” had to flee from her native Iraq with her family, moving to Lebanon when Isis terrorists threatened to kidnap her because of her religion. In her new home she is just one of the millions of displaced refugees who comprise one third of the country’s population.
But Merna has a big heart — and a big voice. Her talent takes her to the finals on Lebanon’s version of “The Voice” for kids, but when the show is over she is still waiting for an opportunity to find a permanent place to live.
“Brave & Amazing Children” screens Jan. 15 at 3:45 p.m. at the Brattle. Proceeds will benefit the Refugee & Immigrant Assistance Center. For more information go to www.belmontworldfilm.org.Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.