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Animated encounters

Inspite of the wet and dreary weather and against the backdrop of troubling events post Referendum in the UK, this week had a more optimistic and productive feel – perhaps in part because the period of fasting for many is nearly over, with Eid following next week. About 40 people joined us to draw and make plasticine figures across the two days – animals of all shapes and colours outnumbering people, taking over the large map and other surfaces, many resulting in short and beautiful stop-frame animations.

In addition to the usual afternoon sessions in the MdM psychosocial tent, on Friday morning we set up an impromptu animation studio in the portacabin of the jointly-run state / MSF hospital area – having dropped by on Thursday to visit some men we haven’t seen for a while who asked us to come back the next day with art materials.

It was good to be back in the portacabin which we had used through the darkest weeks of the winter. The 15 or so participants came from both the camp hospital and from the waiting area where residents were queuing to see a doctor. The ease with which we could set up this space was testament to the fact that as a team we are so integrated into the camp services one year on. In addition to the filmmaking and animation being by their nature collaborative processes, it was moving to be supported by other services in being able to respond to requests and a privilege to do so.

Within the context of the surrounding activity of plasticine figures, props, backdrops, iPads and tripods, one of the men, a teacher we have known for a while joined us in the space directly from the hospital with a pain in his leg so bad that it was almost unbearable. He brought along another hospital patient nearly arrived from a gruelling journey from Sudan, and the two men sat drawing side by side for two hours. During this time the teacher phoned his brother in Liverpool who he so wants to see in person; passing the phone to one of us to have a conversation, the UK-based brother checking in on his camp-based brother’s wellbeing. Before leaving the space he reported that he had hardly noticed the pain in his leg and asked if we could return next week for a further session in that same space.

A former camp resident, himself a filmmaker, dropped into the space to visit one of the hospital patients who was busy making objects for a scene he had in mind. The filmmaker started up a conversation with Tony about animation, something he’d always wanted to do, when his phone rang and he stepped outside. He returned to say it was from a teenager whom he’d become close to in the camp (he was just like his 14 year old brother in Iran); the boy was phoning from London having got into the back of a truck last night and having just arrived in London this morning. The phone call acted as a catalyst for him to make an animation then and there and tell this very story – which he did succinctly and with elegance and poignancy, a few props and plasticine figures taking the narrative: from tents in the camp to the lorry at the port to the boy standing outside Big Ben.

The small dog was originally going to stand in for the police but in the end represented ‘being left behind’. Characters can start as one thing but when they encounter something or someone else they sometimes shift – the fluid, collaborative process lending itself to a shift in the story, the playback often bringing moments of surprise and joy.

In these encounters we experienced a number of connections and lot of hope, and witnessed the capacity of people to care for others, and the will to collaborate across cultures, organisations and fractious borders – the fruitfulness of working together born out in the accessible medium of animation.

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