In what volunteers are calling “a healing gift from the American film industry,” kids and other refugees at a camp in Neprosteno, Macedonia, are being distracted from the traumas of war by watching Hollywood comedies.
The screenings, which began over the weekend with a Charlie Chaplin feature, some Yogi Bear cartoons and “Tom & Jerry: The Movie,” were put together by FilmAid, newly founded by Outlaw Prods. co-chief Jeff Silver in Los Angeles and New York-based producer Caroline Baron.
The films were part of a shipment of 50 videos donated by Hollywood studios, including “The Flintstones,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Anastasia,” “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Dr. Doolittle,” “Big,” “Home Alone,” “Back to the Future,” “Independence Day,” “The X-Files” and “The Sound of Music.”
To fund the project, FilmAid gathered $25,000 each from Miramax and Universal as well as a smaller gift from the William Jelin Memorial Trust. Several companies donated screens and video and sound equipment. Two projectionists and a coordinator flew to Macedonia to set up the shows.
Thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees remain mired in makeshift camps in Macedonia and Albania, dissuaded from returning home to Kosovo until mines are cleared and relief agencies have a chance to set up aid facilities for them. Other refugees, unable to wait, have streamed back into the devastated Yugoslav province.
But at the open-air screening in Neprosteno on Saturday night, about 400 people — mostly children — escaped all that, according to the American volunteers, who called home with a description of the event. There was a second screening on Sunday.
“Comedies, especially, are a soothing thing,” Silver said. “The anxiety there is very high right now, because many people who would like to go back can’t — their villages are destroyed and there is still civil unrest.”
Silver told Daily Variety that, initially, the screenings would focus on children, but that several films would be aimed at teens and adults. Local Macedonian children — some of whose families are not enamored with the Albanians — are being invited to the screenings.
“We’re hoping to use films to get people together and watch a movie and have a good time,” Silver said. Eventually, the mobile cinemas will be moved into Kosovo proper, at the request of the International Rescue Committee.
The FilmAid project, nine weeks in the making, was set up with the cooperation of NATO, the State Dept. and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Since there will be refugees in the camps for some time, this project is timely and welcome,” said Robyn Groves of the U.N. operation. “With good films to watch, the children can laugh together and momentarily forget both the persecution they’ve witnessed and the empty days they now experience. It will remind them that their childhood is not over.”