Hany’s Story

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Zahra Mackaoui

What motivated you to make your impact video?

Having spent a year working for UNHCR filming the Syrian refugee crisis across the Middle East, I was struck over and over again of this sense of life standing still for the millions of refugees stuck in camps. I wanted to make a video that reflected this, spoken in the words of the protagonist.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

That anyone can become a refugee in their life and not to make any presumptions about what being a refugee means or the type of person this happens to.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

I was told about Hany by a photographer friend who had met him whilst doing a series on Syrian teenagers. She told me how impressed she had been by him and I decided to meet him. I liked him immediately, I was impressed how he had taught himself English and also by his intelligence and creative spirit, and finally by his resilience. So we returned to film with him, we spent four days with his family and then a week editing. I think the film came out as I expected.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What does being a refugee mean? How does the mainstream press portray refugees? How could this be different and more meaningful?


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Seeing how proactive Hany was and how much he wanted to be part of the process, he was not passive waiting to be filmed, he suggested and then listened and learnt.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

For Hany, they have changed considerably. After the video, he became well known to journalists who interviewed him on many occasions. He was so inspired by filming, he asked to join a photography course for refugees and began taking photos of the camps because he wanted to tell his reality. He was eventually accepted for resettlement in Canada and after the TV series was broadcast, he has been filmed by CTV and CBC and spoke publicly at Canadian Association for Free Expression. He got a scholarship to Ryerson University and is about to have his first photo exhibition in Dubai. He is also in contact with the camp and is trying to raise money for a library and encourage other Syrians to take photos too. He speaks regularly on the Syrian crisis in the Canadian media and just had his first  Buzzfeed published.


As for the Syrian refugee crisis, that continues of course.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Take your time to choose your protagonist and don’t rush the production.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

They can contact Hany directly to contribute to the camps or myself as I know many families in need that can be helped directly.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video.

This film came at the end of a very emotional year for me in which I had filmed across the entire Middle East and Europe following the Syrian refugee crisis. I wanted to leave UNHCR with a film that did not fall into their news style and which was not narrated by me!


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:

  1. Photographer Elena Dorfman met Hany whilst doing an assignment on Syrian teenagers. It was part of a photo essay for the New Yorker.
  2. Melissa Fleming’s Article with photos taken by Andrew Mcconnell
  3. Melissa Fleming’s Ted Talk about Hany.
  4. Hany’s article for UNHCR, and his first photos.
  5. Series I made following Hany that was also broadcast on Channel 4 News over 1 week in October 2015.
  6. CBC video for programme ‘The National’ on Hany
  7. CTV two parter for W5 by Kevin Newman on Hany
  8. Video of Hany for UNHCR conference with updated scenes in Canada.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

FS7 pocket camera


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Not really.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

All the stages really, the development, the filming, the editing..each stage is a creative and collaborative process shared with others.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

Pen and paper, so I can keep track of my ideas and take notes.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

No special techniques, just wanted to keep it simple yet visually compelling.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency



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