FOR Daniel LeBaron, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict used to be something he only knew about through the reports of violence that filtered out through the news.
But today, the Rockridge graduate has achieved a new and deeper understanding, thanks to the Palestinian and Israeli friends he made as part of a B.C. film camp this year.
The goal of the Peace It Together camp was to document the experiences of Palestinians and Israelis through film in a way that promotes peace, but as LeBaron explains, the films only scratch the surface of what the participants go through in the process.
"I was really nervous going into the camp," said LeBaron. "I know quite a bit, but I was still worried about my lack of factual knowledge, and to be completely honest, I was worried about stepping outside my easy-going life."
"I learned a lot about the conflict itself. I heard stories - soldiers going into people's houses in the middle of the night, taking their brothers from them - that I'll never be able to forget."
The three-week program, which started July 7, took youth from Israel, Palestine and Canada and brought them together for a week in Pemberton and two weeks at UBC to work on the films. Each project is put together by participants from all three countries. There are also games, bonding experiences and a lot of discussions around the conflict and the experiences of people from both sides.
Reena Lazar, executive director of Peace It Together, said part of the goal was to be up front about the emotions and experiences - and sometimes anger - so there's no elephant in the room.
"There are a lot of reasons why they don't trust each other, why there are elephants, and if we don't talk about it, it's like the metaphorical wall that keeps them apart. The only way to break it down is to talk about it."
Lazar, a Jewish Canadian from Montreal, came up with the idea after participating in a listening series across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in 1999 and then helping to facilitate a similar conference in New Mexico. The first camp, in 2004, didn't have the film theme, and focused more on outdoor adventure and breaking down barriers, but Lazar said it was clear the students needed something tangible to take home with them.
The next camp, in 2008, partnered with the Gulf Island Film School. Lazar found it to be a perfect fit.
"The process of filmmaking is a perfect metaphor for peace building, and the films were actually really interesting," he said.
LeBaron created a film with two dancers, Daniella Segal from Israel and Amal Adawi from Palestine, that focused on their shared talent. In the film, the two perform traditional folk dances alone in their studios, cut together with flashbacks of painful memories, before appearing on stage together.
Every little detail of the film was scrutinized by the participants, said LeBaron, and at one point they had to redo Adawi's flashback scene because it didn't feel right for her. It was just a few seconds of footage, but LeBaron realized how important it was to get it right.
"A lot of emotions were going on the whole time, some positive and some negative," he said. "I got to my point where I was almost ready to give up doing the filmmaking because so much had gone on, so much was going on."
While it might sound uncomfortable to have to air all those feelings all at once - and for LeBaron, it certainly was - it was worth it in the end, he said. Participants were surprised at how similar they were as people.
"Slowly over the time, as they got to know each other, they realized they like the same things, they get up at the same time, eat the same things for breakfast."
LeBaron, who is attending the University of Victoria after graduating from Rockridge in 2008, knows he wants to keep encouraging peace, even if he's not sure what form that will take. All the 2011 films can be viewed online at www.peaceittogether.com.