First Frames A film about the man spreading hope through photography


Ever since being forced to flee his home in Syria, Serbest Salih has dedicated his time to bringing photography education to overlooked communities of children across Southeast Turkey through his mobile darkroom project Sirkhane. “After the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and here in this region, we’re trying to bring different communities together,” Salih says during “First Frames,” a film that introduces us to him and to the incredible children he’s taught along the way. Here, director Ilie Mitaru speaks about the making of the film, and about how he wanted to show the kids as beacons of hope and joy who are not defined by the struggles they’ve faced. To show that, as Salih says, “Wherever they come from, a child is a child.” 

As soon as filmmaker Ilie Mitaru came upon Serbest Salih’s Instagram account—which documents his experiences teaching photography skills to displaced and overlooked communities of children across Turkey—he knew it was a story he needed to tell. “I had an immediate reaction to how visceral and energetic the children’s images were,” he says. “They were so sure of themselves, alive, and intimate—I was so taken aback that children who had just picked up cameras could capture images like this.”

Mitaru wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the children: “to embrace the weird, quirky, magical nature of their thinking and portray them not as passive subjects of their often-difficult circumstances, but as playful, resilient and complex individuals.” The film gives an insight into the childrens’ worlds, focusing its lens on them as they speak about their friendships, curiosities and frustrations.

Mitaru was astounded throughout the process by the childrens’ ability to move between difficult topics and more positive topics so freely and easily. “We never brought up the traumatic events ourselves, but instead followed their lead,” he says. “One moment they may be talking about losing all their possessions in an earthquake [the earthquake of February 6, 2023, which killed over 53000 people] and then in an instant they’d be taken by a beautiful flower or a cloud they want to photograph.” 

In turn, despite including some heartbreaking conversations, ultimately the film tells a story of hope in the face of adversity, and of the incredible power of childhood imagination. “Children show us the world,” Salih says during the film. “We just have to provide them with the tools, and they show us.”

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