We continue our interview series with filmmakers in this year's Program with the directors of AFTER SPRING, Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez. Profiling the lives behind Syria's refugee crisis, Martinez and Ching immerse viewers in life at the refugee camp, Zaatari, by introducing viewers to two families and several aid workers attempting to make the best of the present while facing an uncertain future. We recently caught up with the directors at their DUMBO office.
NFF: You’ve referred to AFTER SPRING as being a ‘tool for putting a face on the Syrian refugee crisis.’ Were there any faces NOT in the film that stood out in particular to you personally?
Ellen: That’s my favorite question!
Steph: Yes! As you know, making a documentary, there’s so many interesting stories you come across and not everything can make it into the movie. One of the people who we met who we were so impressed with was this teenager named Mezon who lived not at Zaatari camp, but a different camp and one of her focuses was education. Access to education is an issue at the camp, so a lot of kids end up not going to school. She took it upon herself to encourage her peers to attend school, and she set up girl study groups for her friends and she’s been called the “Malaala of Zaatari.” And when Malaala visited the camp, she was kind of her guide there -- there’s a shot of them together in the film.
Ellen: The reason she didn’t make it in the film was she ended up moving camps and we didn’t see how we could make it work to still include her since we were focused on Zaatari. But since then she’s actually been resettled to the UK and works with the Malaala Fund to help raise awareness and increase access to education for girls.
NFF: How did you choose the Zaatari Camp as the one to focus on?
Ellen: When we were researching the subject, the majority of the refugees lived in the neighboring countries, and started reading about the Zaatari Camp and how the people from these countries came to the camp and started building a whole community in this transitional space.
Steph: Instead of moving around we stayed there to be able to provide a more personal story.
NFF: How did you become creative partners?
Ellen: We attended NYU together and were friends in documentary class. After school we both worked in different capacities for a while…I worked on set, and--
Steph: …I mostly worked in postproduction. So together we made a great match because our skill sets complimented each other.
NFF: What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects for you both in making AFTER SPRING?
Ellen: The most challenging was the languages; the language barrier. The film is in Arabic, Korean and a little bit of English and we don’t speak those languages…
Steph: …barely English…!
Ellen: …so we had to put all our trust in our translators. And we were lucky to have some great translators both on location and in post, in NYC. Overall we had about 26 different translators. We translated and edited at the same time, and it took longer than six months to fully translate.
Steph: And also staying true; we wanted an Arabic speaker to watch it and for it to make sense and a Korean speaker to watch it and for it to make sense.
Ellen: And it was important for us not to have a narrator, which would have been easier, because we wanted to preserve the voices of our subjects and have them tell their own stories.
NFF: In your own words, why should people come see AFTER SPRING at NFF?
Steph: We want everyone to see it!
Ellen: We hope it offers a different perspective into the crisis from what you see on the news-- masses of people where you don’t get to know them. In our movie you do get to know them on a personal level. Also it’s not a depressing film; we want people to know that. You get to see what people do to overcome being in this horrible situation.
Steph: We couldn’t help but fall in love with the people we met there and we hope that translates to the screen…
Ellen: …and we’ll be there!
Steph: Yeah! Come see us!
AFTER SPRING plays the Nantucket Film Festival on Saturday, June 25th and Sunday, June 26th. Ellen and Steph will be in attendance at both screenings