BEIRUT: Asking dozens of young people to define their identity generates responses so diverse and wide-ranging that there are few commonalities among the answers.
And the question itself turned out to be just as difficult to pin down. When young people were asked to put their thoughts on identity into film, the results ranged from deep meditations on what it means to be a member of the world, to examining a daily routine that defined them.
Mohammad Yatim, an 18-year-old university student, grappled with the question in his own way, covering ground in leaps and bounds. He filmed the swimming he enjoyed, the illegal driving he relished, his electronics projects and – naturally – his daily frustrations with electricity in his home city of Tyre.
Yatim’s video and 10 others like his were screened at the Metro al-Madina theater Wednesday in Beirut. They were part of a peace-building initiative conducted by the Search for Common Ground, which looks to change conflict environments through education and media projects.
Students from across the country were given film training and worked with Search for Common Ground members to produce two-minute documentaries about their lives.
“I shot the movie about my life in Tyre and about how it can be sometimes hard for a person like me who has different religious views, especially a person like me as an atheist who has a hard time to live over there easily,” Yatim said.
“I already knew what I wanted to talk about,” he said. “I spoke about the good things; I spoke about the bad things.”
After covering a broad array of topics about his his daily life, Yatim spoke about nationality and his frustrations with being Lebanese over underwater footage he shot from the coast.
Other videos from project participants plumbed equally deep issues of identity. Some talk about their pride in being Lebanese, others their anger. Some ignored the questions of national identity entirely and focused on their emotional state, their sense of humor and their passions.
The project aimed at helping people find a way to select and define their personal identities, which often get washed over by the divisive sectarianism that influences so much of the country’s civil society and politics.
The event at Metro al-Madina also debuted a professional documentary about identity that featured a young Lebanese man who was raised in the Muslim and Christian cultures of his father and mother, struggling to figure out exactly who he is.
During his journey of self-discovery, he speaks to his parents, relatives and friends about exactly who he can be, before coming to the conclusion that an identity is something that is lived and experienced – it isn’t given, or the result of a conscious search.