DigitaLENS Fosters Sisterhood Through Storytelling

The Voices of Muslim Women DigitaLENS Film Festival was held at KPU on May 14

Following the Voices of Muslim Women DigitaLENS Film Festival, students of KPU's Digital Storytelling Course were awarded with recognition of achievement certificates by instructors Katie Warfield and Aisha Amijee. (Ashley Hyshka)

Following the Voices of Muslim Women DigitaLENS Film Festival, students of KPU’s Digital Storytelling Course were awarded with recognition of achievement certificates by instructors Katie Warfield and Aisha Amijee. (Ashley Hyshka)

At the third annual DigitaLENS Film Festival, Muslim women came together to put their creativity on public display.

Over seven weeks, Aisha Amijee, Alia Youseff, and Katie Warfield—all digital storytelling instructors at KPU—planned the event to merge technical videography skills with social justice and introspection.

The course that the three instructors teach is held during both the fall and spring semesters. In the fall, KPU works with high school students from Princess Margaret Secondary School, among other Surrey-based schools. Students in the class then create films which examine social issues and self-identity.

“We basically teach them to take tools—how to take a new lens—to look at themselves and representations of themselves in media,” says Amijee.

The course was first held in response to negative media coverage of youth in Surrey, who were stereotyped as being troublemakers and gang members. Amijee says that the project stemmed out of a “desire to change” those negative stereotypes and give youth the opportunity to showcase themselves in a positive light.

For the spring semester, the class consisted of Muslim girls and women aged 16 to 55 from across the Lower Mainland.

Aisha Amijee and Katie Warfield of KPU's Visual Media Workshop, and instructors of the Digital Storytelling Course. (Ashley Hyshka)

Aisha Amijee and Katie Warfield of KPU’s Visual Media Workshop, and instructors of the Digital Storytelling Course. (Ashley Hyshka)

Amijee, a Muslim woman and feminist, says that teaching the course made her realize that Muslim students affected by Islamophobia needed an opportunity to share their voices. Last year, she helped tailor the curriculum to accommodate Muslim women and girls specifically.

“I think it’s important to create solutions for the communities you belong to,” she says. “Their voices matter and they also have the responsibility to take a seat at the table and to share their views.”

Amijee also praised KPU’s Dean of Arts, Diane Purvey, as well as Katie Warfield for being supportive and “allies to women of colour.”

The course is taught in three parts. Amijee teaches in the first part about social justice and expression of identity. Warfield then teaches about selfie research and how we make meaning of and view ourselves through imagery. The final part is taught by Youssef, who passes on her technical filmmaking skills to the students.

“I’m also just excited that Kwantlen is a place that makes space for this type of program,” says Warfield. “Many other universities wouldn’t, and I think what makes Kwantlen really special is humility and offering support for these community-academic partnerships.”

During the VMW DigitaLENS Film Festival on May 14, there were 11 films screened for the public. They illustrated stories of love, acceptance, family, abuse, racism, religion, and death.

The event also included a Q&A panel of students: Allison Youssef, Fadima Berry, Azmina Kassam, Nikhat Qureshi, and Shahin Khan. During the panel, students discussed some of the accomplishments and challenges that they were faced with while creating their films.

Amijee hopes that attendees at the event learned more about the experiences and identities of Muslim people in their community.

“Part of community building is listening, and so it’s important for us to take the time to listen to the stories of others who we share our lives and our community spaces with,” she says.

Warfield called the filmmakers passionate, caring, and inspiring women and says they taught her more than she taught them.

“You know when you smile so much your cheeks get sore?” says Warfield. “That was the catalyst for the feelings I’m feeling.”

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