A child’s paradise: Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival celebrates inclusion

From workshops for children with special needs to shadow puppetry, the festival is a celebration of creativity

‘Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age and dreams are forever’ is quote often attributed to Walt Disney. These words held especially true for Yazan Ahmad – the vibrant teenager, who sang, smiled and laughed as the camera captured a candid photo of him. Yazan was a part of a small group of middle school children with special needs that were visiting Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF) that runs from October 23rd to the 28th.
“These children are not different. They’ve some exceptional talents. Kids with special needs often learn best through visual instructions. My workshop today aims to teach skills and concepts in actual settings rather than on-screen,” said Sahar Sharif, a Disabilities Education Instructor and the trainer of the workshop – ‘Confidence in Front of Camera” offered by Sharjah Art Foundation.  Sahar was charismatic and in command. Her perceptiveness, artistic acuity and wildly funny sense of humour washed the children like a tidal wave.
The workshop, called ‘Confidence in front of Camera’, coaxed and encouraged kids with special needs to practice some of the skills that their disorder makes particularly challenging – creating eye contact, recognising the emotion behind facial expressions, taking turns speaking and standing an appropriate distance from other people. Humming to the tunes of ‘Doe a Deer, a Female Deer’, the workshop allowed children to explore imaginative worlds, which may otherwise be locked away.
“This is so exciting. I love singing and dancing. I feel like a bird flying high,” said Diana, the youngest member of the group of children that visited SICFF from Sharjah City of Humanitarian Services.
While one aspect of the festival offered children with special needs an opportunity to explore social and cognitive communication skills, there was another junction that dazzled the youth with entertainment and song. Children aged between 5-7 laughed, giggled and chuckled as the room lit up with colourful lighting and atmospheric music.
The Shadow Puppetry, organised by the Animation Chamber and reminiscent of traditional Indian, Chinese, Indonesian and Turkish figures, lifted up the spirits of the young children. While they had a chance to view a shadow puppet performance, they also learned the craft of shadow-puppet making and storytelling. By the end of the workshop, participants were given the opportunity to produce their own shadow puppet performance with carefully chosen sound tracks and shadow puppet screens. “This year’s festival has a lot of variations,” said a teacher accompanying the group of children. “The workshop was a fun and an interactive session. The children are in high-spirits.”
From creative arts to impromptu performances, the workshops and activities at SICFF this year aim to create meaningful, artistic interventions for children and adults alike.