sponsored links
TED2006

Jehane Noujaim: My wish: A global day of film

February 26, 2006

Jehane Noujaim unveils her 2006 TED Prize wish: to bring the world together for one day a year through the power of film.

Jehane Noujaim - Filmmaker
2006 TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim is the gutsy filmmaker responsible for Control Room, an astonishing documentary about Al Jazeera's coverage of the Iraq war and the contrasting notions of truth expressed in the US media. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I can't help but with this wish to think about when you're a little kid
00:24
and you -- all your friends ask you if a genie could
00:28
give you one wish in the world, what would it be?
00:31
And I always answered, "Well, I'd want the wish
00:34
to have the wisdom to know exactly what to wish for."
00:38
Well, then you'd be screwed because you'd know what to wish for
00:41
and you'd used up your wish.
00:43
And now, since we only have one wish -- unlike last year they had three wishes --
00:45
I'm not going to wish for that.
00:48
So let's get to what I would like, which is world peace.
00:50
And I know what you're thinking.
00:55
You're thinking, the poor girl up there --
00:57
she thinks she's at a beauty pageant.
00:59
She's not. She's at the TED Prize. (Laughter)
01:01
But I really do think it makes sense,
01:04
and I think that the first step to world peace is for people to meet each other.
01:09
I've met a lot of different people over the years
01:13
and I've filmed some of them --
01:16
from a dotcom executive in New York that wanted to take over the world
01:18
to a military press officer in Qatar
01:22
that would rather not take over the world.
01:25
If you've seen the film "Control Room" that was sent out,
01:27
you'd understand a little bit why. Thank you.
01:30
(Applause)
01:32
Wow! Some of you watched it.
01:33
That's great. That's great.
01:35
So basically what I'd like to talk about today
01:37
is a way for people to travel,
01:42
to meet people in a different way than --
01:45
because you can't travel all over the world at the same time.
01:49
And a long time ago -- well, about 40 years ago --
01:52
my mom had an exchange student.
01:57
And I'm going to show you slides of the exchange student.
02:01
This is Donna.
02:03
This is Donna at the Statue of Liberty.
02:05
This is my mother and aunt teaching Donna how to ride a bike.
02:08
This is Donna eating ice cream.
02:12
And this is Donna teaching my aunt how to do a Filipino dance.
02:15
Now I really think as the world is getting smaller,
02:22
it becomes more and more important that we learn each other's dance moves,
02:24
that we meet each other, we get to know each other,
02:27
we are able to figure out a way to cross borders,
02:29
to understand each other, to understand people's hopes and dreams,
02:33
what makes them laugh and cry.
02:36
And I know that we can't all do exchange programs,
02:38
and I can't force everybody to travel.
02:41
I've already talked about that to Chris and Amy,
02:43
and they said that there's a problem with this.
02:45
You can't force people of free will, and I totally support that. (Laughter)
02:47
So we're not forcing people to travel.
02:50
But I'd like to talk about another way to travel
02:52
that doesn't require a ship or an airplane,
02:54
and just requires a movie camera, a projector and a screen.
02:58
And that's what I'm going to talk to you about today.
03:03
I was asked that I speak a little bit
03:08
about where I personally come from,
03:10
and Cameron, I don't know how you managed to get out of that one,
03:12
but I think that building bridges is important to me
03:15
because of where I come from.
03:20
I'm the daughter of an American mother
03:22
and an Egyptian-Lebanese-Syrian father.
03:25
So I'm the living product of two cultures coming together.
03:28
No pun intended.
03:33
And I've also been called --
03:34
as an Egyptian-Lebanese-Syrian American with a Persian name --
03:35
the "Middle East Peace Crisis."
03:39
So maybe me starting to take pictures was some kind of way
03:41
to bring both sides of my family together,
03:45
a way to take the worlds with me, a way to tell stories visually.
03:49
It all kind of started that way,
03:54
but I think that I really realized the power of the image
03:56
when I first went to the garbage-collecting village in Egypt,
03:59
when I was about 16. My mother took me there.
04:03
She's somebody that believes strongly in community service
04:08
and decided that this was something that I needed to do
04:10
and so I went there and I met some amazing women there.
04:12
There was a center there
04:17
where they were teaching people how to read and write
04:20
and get vaccinations against the many diseases
04:23
you can get from sorting through garbage.
04:25
And I began to start teaching there.
04:27
I taught English, and I met some incredible women there.
04:29
I met people that live seven people to a room,
04:32
barely can afford their evening meal,
04:37
yet live with this strength of spirit and sense of humor
04:39
and just incredible qualities.
04:42
I got drawn into this community and I began to take pictures there.
04:45
I took pictures of weddings and older family members,
04:49
things that they wanted memories of.
04:56
About two years after I started taking these pictures,
04:59
the UN Conference on Population and Development
05:03
asked me to show them at the conference.
05:07
So I was 18; I was very excited.
05:10
It was my first exhibit of photographs and they were all put up there,
05:13
and after about two days, they all came down except for three.
05:18
People were very upset, very angry
05:24
that I was showing these dirty sides of Cairo,
05:27
and why didn't I cut the dead donkey out of the frame?
05:30
And as I sat there, I got very depressed.
05:34
I looked at this big empty wall with
05:36
three lonely photographs that were, you know,
05:40
very pretty photographs and I was like, I failed at this.
05:42
But I was looking at this intense emotion and intense feeling
05:48
that had come out of people just seeing these photographs.
05:54
I mean, here I was, this 18-year-old pipsqueak that nobody listened to,
05:57
and all of a sudden I put these photographs on the wall
06:00
and there were arguments, and they had to be taken down.
06:03
And I just saw the power of the image.
06:05
And it was incredible.
06:07
And I think the most important reaction that I saw there
06:09
was actually people that would never have gone to the garbage village themselves,
06:12
that would never have seen that the human spirit could thrive
06:15
in such difficult circumstances.
06:19
And I think it was at that point that I decided
06:21
that I wanted to use photography and film
06:23
to somehow bridge gaps, to bridge cultures, bring people together, cross borders.
06:27
And so that's what really kind of started me off.
06:32
Did a stint at MTV, made a film called "Startup.com,"
06:38
and I've done a couple of music films --
06:42
but in 2003, when the war in Iraq was about to start,
06:46
it was a very surreal feeling for me
06:50
because before the war started, there was kind of this media war that was going on.
06:56
And I was watching television in New York
07:00
and there seemed to be just one point of view
07:02
that was coming across, and
07:04
the coverage went from the U.S. State Department to embedded troops
07:07
and what was coming across on the news
07:12
was that there was going to be this clean war and precision bombings,
07:16
and the Iraqis would be greeting the Americans as liberators
07:20
and throwing flowers at their feet in the streets of Baghdad.
07:24
And I knew that there was a completely other story
07:27
that was taking place in the Middle East where my parents were.
07:29
I knew that there was a completely other story being told,
07:33
and I was thinking, how are people supposed to communicate
07:36
with each other when they're getting completely different messages
07:39
and nobody knows what the other's being told?
07:41
How are people supposed to have any kind of common understanding
07:44
or know how to move together into the future?
07:47
So I knew that I had to go there.
07:50
I just wanted to be in the center.
07:52
I had no plan. I had no funding.
07:54
I didn't even have a camera at the time.
07:57
I had somebody bring it there
07:59
because I wanted to get access to Al Jazeera,
08:01
George Bush's favorite channel
08:04
and a place which I was very curious about because
08:06
it's disliked by many governments across the Arab world
08:09
and also called the mouthpiece of Osama Bin Laden
08:13
by some people in the U.S. government.
08:17
So I was thinking, you know, this station that's hated
08:19
by so many people has to be doing something right.
08:23
I've got to go see what this is all about.
08:25
And I also wanted to go see Central Command,
08:29
which was 10 minutes away, and that way
08:31
I could get access to how this news was being created
08:33
on the Arab side reaching the Arab world,
08:38
and on the U.S. and Western side reaching the U.S.
08:40
And when I went there and sat there,
08:43
and met these people that were in the center of it
08:45
and sat with these characters,
08:48
I met some surprising, very complex people.
08:51
And I'd like to share with you a little bit of that experience
08:55
of when you sit with somebody and you film them, and you listen to them,
09:00
and you allow them more than a five-second sound bite,
09:03
the amazing complexity of people emerge.
09:07
Sameer Khader: Business as usual.
09:15
Iraq, and then Iraq, and then Iraq.
09:18
But between us, if I'm offered a job with Fox, I'll take it.
09:23
To change the Arab nightmare into the American dream.
09:34
I still have that dream.
09:43
Maybe I will never be able to do it.
09:46
But I have plans for my children.
09:50
When they finish their high school I will send them to America to study there.
09:54
I will pay for their study.
09:57
And they will stay there.
10:00
Josh Rushing: The night they showed the POWs and the dead soldiers --
10:09
Al Jazeera showed them --
10:13
it was powerful because America doesn't show those kinds of images.
10:15
Most of the news in America won't show really gory images
10:17
and this showed American soldiers in uniform strewn about a floor,
10:19
a cold tile floor.
10:23
And it was revolting.
10:25
It was absolutely revolting.
10:27
It made me sick to my stomach.
10:29
And then what hit me was, the night before,
10:31
there had been some kind of bombing in Basra,
10:33
and Al Jazeera had shown images of the people.
10:36
And they were equally if not more horrifying -- the images were.
10:42
And I remember having seen it in the Al Jazeera office
10:46
and thought to myself, "Wow, that's gross.
10:49
That's bad."
10:52
And then going away, and probably eating dinner or something.
10:55
And it didn't affect me as much.
10:58
So -- the impact it had on me, me realizing that
11:01
I just saw people on the other side,
11:04
and those people in the Al Jazeera office
11:06
must have felt the way I was feeling that night.
11:09
And it upset me on a profound level
11:11
that I wasn't bothered as much the night before.
11:14
It makes me hate war.
11:17
But it doesn't make me believe that we're in world that can live without war yet.
11:20
Jehane Noujaim: I was overwhelmed by the response of the film,
11:23
for we didn't know whether it would be able to get out there.
11:26
We had no funding for it.
11:29
We were incredibly lucky that it got picked up,
11:30
and when we showed the film in both the United States and the Arab world
11:35
we had such incredible reactions.
11:40
It was amazing to see how people were moved by this film.
11:42
In the Arab world -- and it's not really by the film;
11:45
it's by the characters.
11:48
I mean, Josh Rushing was this incredibly complex person
11:50
who was thinking about things.
11:54
And when I showed the film in the Middle East,
11:56
people wanted to meet Josh.
11:58
He kind of redefined us as an American population.
12:01
People started to, you know, ask me, where is this guy now?
12:04
Al Jazeera offered him a job.
12:09
And Sameer, on the other hand,
12:13
was also quite an interesting character for the Arab world to see,
12:15
because it brought out the complexities of this love/hate relationship
12:19
that the Arab world has with the West.
12:22
In the United States, I was blown away by the motivations,
12:25
the positive motivations of the American people
12:30
when they'd see this film.
12:33
You know, we're criticized abroad for
12:35
believing we're the saviors of the world in some way,
12:38
but the flip side of it is that actually,
12:40
when people do see what is happening abroad
12:43
and people's reactions to some of our policy abroad,
12:46
we feel this power that we need to --
12:49
we feel like we have to get the power to change things.
12:51
And I saw this with audiences.
12:53
This woman came up to me after the screening and said, "You know,
12:55
I know this is crazy. I saw the bombs being loaded on the planes;
13:00
I saw the military going out to war.
13:02
But you don't understand people's anger towards us
13:04
until you see the people in the hospitals and the victims of the war,
13:07
and how do we get out of this bubble?
13:11
How do we understand what the other person is thinking?"
13:13
Now, I don't know whether a film can change the world,
13:18
but I know that it starts -- I know the power of it --
13:22
I know that it starts people thinking about how to change the world.
13:24
Now, I'm not a philosopher,
13:28
so I feel like I shouldn't go into great depth on this but
13:30
let film speak for itself and take you to this other world.
13:34
Because I believe that film has the ability to take you across borders.
13:37
I'd like you to just sit back and experience for a couple of minutes
13:41
being taken into another world.
13:45
And these couple clips take you inside
13:47
of two of the most difficult conflicts that we are faced with today.
13:50
Man: As long as there is injustice, someone must make a sacrifice!
14:03
Woman: That's no sacrifice, that's revenge!
14:07
If you kill, there's no difference between victim and occupier.
14:09
Man: If we had airplanes, we wouldn't need martyrs, that's the difference.
14:15
Woman: The difference is that the Israeli military is still stronger.
14:22
Man: Then let us be equal in death.
14:27
We still have Paradise.
14:29
Woman: There is no Paradise! It only exists in your head!
14:31
Man: God forbid!
14:35
May God forgive you.
14:37
If you were not Abu Azzam's daughter ...
14:39
Anyway, I'd rather have Paradise in my head than live in this hell!
14:44
In this life, we're dead anyway.
14:47
One only chooses bitterness when the alternative is even bitterer.
14:50
Woman: And what about us? The ones who remain?
14:57
Will we win that way?
15:00
Don't you see what you're doing is destroying us?
15:03
And that you give Israel an alibi to carry on?
15:09
Man: So with no alibi, Israel will stop?
15:12
Woman: Perhaps. We have to turn it into a moral war.
15:15
Man: How, if Israel has no morals?
15:19
Woman: Be careful!
15:22
Tzvika: My wife Ayelet called me and said,
15:40
"There was a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv."
15:43
Ayelet: What do you know about the casualties?
15:46
We're looking for three girls.
15:49
Tzvika: We have no information.
15:52
Ayelet: One is wounded here, but we haven't heard from the other three.
15:54
Tzvika: I said, "OK, that's Bat-Chen, that's my daughter.
15:58
Are you sure she is dead?"
16:03
They said yes.
16:04
George: On that day, at around 6:30
16:14
I was driving with my wife and daughters to the supermarket.
16:17
When we got to here,
16:25
we saw three Israeli military jeeps parked on the side of the road.
16:28
When we passed by the first jeep,
16:34
they opened fire on us.
16:38
And my 12-year-old daughter Christine
16:41
was killed in the shooting.
16:45
I am the headmaster for all parts.
16:58
George: But there is a teacher that is in charge?
17:00
Tzvika: Yes, I have assistants.
17:03
I deal with children all the time.
17:06
George: At first, I thought it was a strange idea.
17:14
But after thinking logically about it,
17:18
I didn't find any reason why not to meet them
17:22
and let them know of our suffering.
17:29
George: There were many things that touched me.
17:34
We see that there are Palestinians who suffered a lot, who lost children,
17:38
and still believe in the peace process and in reconciliation.
17:43
If we who lost what is most precious can talk to each other,
17:46
and look forward to a better future,
17:49
then everyone else must do so, too.
17:52
Man: Song is something that we communicated with people
18:08
who otherwise would not have understood where we're coming from.
18:12
You could give them a long political speech
18:16
they would still not understand.
18:19
But I tell you, when you finish that song,
18:22
people will be like, "Damn, I know where you niggaz are coming from.
18:25
I know where you guys are coming from.
18:27
Death unto apartheid!"
18:29
Narrator: It's about the liberation struggle.
18:33
It's about those children who took to the streets,
18:36
fighting, screaming, "Free Nelson Mandela!"
18:38
It's about those unions who put down their tools
18:44
and demanded freedom.
18:48
Yes. Yes!
18:52
Freedom!
18:58
Jehane Noujaim: I think everybody's had that feeling of sitting in a theater,
19:05
in a dark room, with other strangers, watching a very powerful film,
19:08
and they felt that feeling of transformation.
19:13
And
19:16
what I'd like to talk about is how can we use that feeling
19:18
to actually create a movement through film?
19:22
I've been listening to the talks
19:27
in some of the conference, and Robert Wright said yesterday
19:29
that if we have an appreciation for another person's humanity,
19:33
then they will have an appreciation for ours.
19:37
And that's what this is about.
19:39
It's about connecting people through film,
19:41
getting these independent voices out there.
19:44
Now Josh Rushing actually ended up leaving the military
19:47
and taking a job with Al Jazeera,
19:52
so his feeling is that he's on Al Jazeera International because
19:54
he feels like he can actually use media
19:59
to bridge the gap between East and West.
20:02
And that's an amazing thing.
20:05
But I've been trying to think about ways
20:07
to give power to these independent voices,
20:10
to give power to the filmmakers,
20:13
to give power to people who are trying to use film for change.
20:15
And there are incredible organizations
20:19
that are out there doing this already.
20:21
There's Witness, that you heard from earlier.
20:23
There's Just Vision, that are working with Palestinians and Israelis
20:26
who are working together for peace, and documenting that process
20:29
and getting interviews out there and using this film
20:33
to take to Congress to show that it's a powerful tool
20:35
to show that this is a woman who's had her daughter killed in an attack,
20:38
and she believes that there are peaceful ways to solve this.
20:43
There's Working Films and there's Current TV,
20:46
which is an incredible platform for people around the world
20:50
to be able to put their -- yes, it's amazing.
20:53
I watched it and I'm just -- I'm blown away by it
20:57
and its potential to bring voices from around the world,
21:00
independent voices from around the world,
21:04
and create a truly democratic, global television.
21:06
So what can we do to create a platform for these organizations,
21:09
to create some momentum,
21:13
to get everybody in the world involved in this movement?
21:15
I'd like for us to imagine for a second -- imagine a day
21:20
when you have everyone coming together from around the world.
21:28
You have towns and villages and theaters all from around the world
21:32
getting together, and sitting in the dark,
21:42
and sharing a communal experience of watching a film,
21:45
or a couple of films, together.
21:49
Watching a film which maybe highlights
21:53
a character that is fighting to live, or just
21:55
a character that defies stereotypes,
21:59
makes a joke, sings a song.
22:01
Comedies, documentaries, shorts.
22:04
This amazing power can be used to change people
22:06
and to bond people together, to cross borders
22:09
and have people feel like they're having a communal experience.
22:11
So if you imagine this day when all around the world
22:15
you have theaters from around the world and places where we project films.
22:18
If you imagine from --
22:23
projecting from Times Square to Tahir Square in Cairo,
22:25
the same film in Ramallah, the same film in Jerusalem.
22:30
You know, we've been talking to a friend of mine
22:34
about using the side of the Great Pyramid
22:37
and the Great Wall of China.
22:39
It's endless what you can imagine,
22:42
in terms of where you can project films
22:47
and where you can have this communal experience.
22:49
And I believe that this one day, if we can create it,
22:52
this one day can create momentum for all of these independent voices.
22:55
There
22:59
isn't an organization which is connecting
23:01
the independent voices of the world to get out there,
23:03
and yet I'm hearing throughout this conference
23:06
that the biggest danger in our future is [lack of] understanding the other
23:08
and having mutual respect for the other and crossing borders.
23:12
And if film can do that,
23:16
and if we can get all of these different locations in the world
23:18
to watch these films together, this could be an incredible day.
23:21
So we've already made a partnership actually, set up through
23:26
somebody from the TED community,
23:31
John Camen, introduced me to
23:33
Steven Apkon, from the Jacob Burns Film Center.
23:35
And we started calling up everybody.
23:39
And in the last week, there have been so many people that have responded to us
23:41
from as close as Palo Alto to Mongolia and to India.
23:46
There are people that want to be a part of this global day of film,
23:51
to be able to provide a platform for independent voices
23:55
and independent films to get out there.
23:59
Now, we've thought about a name for this day
24:03
and I'd like to share this with you.
24:07
Now, the most amazing part of this whole process
24:09
has been sharing ideas and wishes,
24:11
and so I invite you to give brainstorms onto
24:14
how does this day echo into the future?
24:18
How do we use technology to make this day echo into the future,
24:21
so that we can build community
24:26
and have these communities working together, through the Internet?
24:28
There was a time, many, many years ago,
24:33
when all of the continents were stuck together.
24:35
And we called that landmass Pangea.
24:39
So what we'd like to call this day of film is Pangea Cinema Day.
24:42
And if you just imagine
24:47
that all of these people in these towns would be watching,
24:49
then I think that we can actually really make a movement
24:52
towards people understanding each other better.
24:56
I know that it's very intangible, touching people's hearts and souls,
24:59
but the only way that I know how to do it,
25:03
the only way that I know how to reach out
25:05
to somebody's heart and soul all across the world is by showing them a film.
25:07
And I know that there are independent filmmakers and films out there
25:12
that can really make this happen.
25:15
And that's my wish.
25:17
So I guess I'm supposed to give you my one-sentence wish,
25:19
but we're way out of time.
25:24
Chris Anderson: That is an incredible wish.
25:27
Pangea Cinema -- the day the world comes together.
25:29
JN: It's more tangible than world peace, and it's certainly more immediate.
25:32
But it would be the day that the world comes together through film,
25:35
the power of film.
25:41
CA: Ladies and gentlemen, Jehane Noujaim.
25:43

sponsored links

Jehane Noujaim - Filmmaker
2006 TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim is the gutsy filmmaker responsible for Control Room, an astonishing documentary about Al Jazeera's coverage of the Iraq war and the contrasting notions of truth expressed in the US media.

Why you should listen

Two weeks before the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Jehane Noujaim gained access to both Al Jazeera and the US military's Central Command offices in Qatar. By being in the right place at that very wrong time, she caught the onset and outbreak of the Iraq war on film. The resulting documentary, Control Room, exposed the very divergent ways the Arabs and the West covered the war.

Being raised between Egypt and the US, the exploration of culture is one of Jehane's driving forces. Her reason for making the film: "It’s important for everyone, simply as individuals, to try to understand different people and different cultures, but it’s especially important for people in the United States because we affect so much of the world beyond our borders."

Noujaim's TED Prize wish -- for a world-uniting Pangea Day of film -- happened in May 2008 in more than 100 cities and online, in a worldwide festival of film, art, music, performance and speakers.

The original video is available on TED.com
sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.