Film Review: After Spring
Directed by Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching
Documenting the day-to-day lives of the families and administrators at Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, directors Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching put a human face to the Syrian conflict. The camp has more than 80,000 inhabitants, most of them children. The vast majority of the families live in trailers, but many of the more recent arrivals are in tents. And although many of them came expecting a brief stay, these men, women, and children have now resigned themselves to the fact that they will be here a while, as the civil war in their home country shows no signs of abating.
That is both the melancholy and the charm of this film: As it has grown, the Zaatari camp has built itself a vast infrastructure, with restaurants and shops featuring everything from cellphones to formal wear; you can even order a pizza. But the families live in cramped spaces, with little hope for the future; some will remain, some will emigrate to the West, some will try to return home. Amid that uncertainty, they try to live normal lives the best they can.
The heartbreak of the refugee families is palpable; home video footage of life in Syria before the war shows the happiness and security that has been lost. But the film is also at its best when it focuses on the camp’s staff. That includes the hardworking and kindly former manager, Kilian Kleinschmidt, and Charles Lee, a Korean aid worker and tae kwon do instructor whose attempts to teach the refugee kids martial arts provides a touching boost to their confidence and morale. It’s a testament to the fact that even in the midst of the most monstrous conflicts, human grace and compassion can be found.