This is a story about the language—and power—of laughter. In a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border, an unlikely friendship is formed between two young women—Timea, a European clown on a mission to spread joy, and Hanadi, a Syrian refugee convinced that war has robbed her of laughter.

 

  • About The Project

    Director’s Pitch from Reilly Dowd on Vimeo.

     

    Two years ago, I was given the unique opportunity to follow a clown troupe from Red Noses International on their first mission to Jordan. I went with them into Zaatari Refugee Camp with only a vague idea that I wanted to tell a positive story about the transformative power of laughter. I had no idea where this quest would take me, but my central question was this: Can there be happiness—or hope—for those who much of the world has forgotten? And are clowns just a momentary distraction, or can they open doors to something more meaningful—maybe even lasting?

     

     

    I was the most skeptical of all. But I know, that by nature, laughter has no borders. It is the shortest distance between two people. As silly as it might sound, it leads to both understanding and compassion. These are the two things much of the world needs in order to tackle our growing, and global, refugee crisis.

      

    Here is our story: Amidst the collateral damage of Syria’s bloody war, The Language of Laughter documents a transformative friendship between two young women from completely different walks of life. Their story begins in January 2015 inside Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp, a sprawling tent city situated just a few miles from the Syrian border. It’s Ground Zero for what the United Nations now deems the world’s most “dramatic humanitarian crisis.”

     

     

    When we first meet Hanadi, 26, she’s just one of more than 100,000 refugees who call Zaatari home. The film begins with a harrowing account of her escape from Syria. Hanadi lost everything—her education, her home, and she’s convinced, her happiness. Her father passed away when they arrived in the camp, and her mother returned to Syria shortly thereafter. With her husband missing, she’s raising three girls alone—worried they will never have a home or a chance.

     

     

    We meet Timea, 27, in a very different place—her gritty and bitter cold hometown of Komarno, Slovakia. She calls herself a “clown doctor,” one of eight hospital clowns handpicked by Vienna-based NGO Red Noses International to embark on the first “Emergency Smile” mission in the Middle East—spreading laughter to Syrian refugees. Timea begins her journey convinced that happiness is a decision and that laughter can heal all wounds, even those of war. For her, clowning presents the opportunity to live in the present moment—a state of pure joy.

     

     

    Timea meets Hanadi and her three daughters after one of the first clown shows in the camp. Hanadi works as a volunteer looking after children in the Mercy Corps youth area, the same place where the clowns were set to perform a series of shows. Hanadi is immediately dismissive of the clowns, convinced they are just another group of foreign do-gooders passing through.

     

    As the clown troupe returns to Zaatari day after day, Timea becomes increasingly curious about Hanadi, and camp life beyond the view from the car or stage.

     

     

    Hanadi watches the clowns in a daze. She’s seen this act before. But Fulla, Timea’s clown character, manages to break through to Hanadi’s youngest daughter in a way that Hanadi can’t. Terrorized by war, 4-year-old Bissan becomes a child again, if only for a few minutes. Hanadi soon invites Timea into her world in the camp—meals, prayer, walks, food shopping and an emotional mix of laughter and tears.

     

    Timea begins to unlock the woman who, at first, appeared hardened and unwilling to smile. As her story unravels, Hanadi becomes our gateway to understanding the human toll of the refugee crisis. At a time when much of the world has great fear and apprehension towards refugees, Hanadi soon gives us the side of the story we rarely see.

      

     

    Timea is struck by the unequivocal love Hanadi expresses for her daughters, despite the harsh circumstances and seemingly unlivable surroundings. It’s a kind of motherly love Timea had never experienced. Seeing this, Timea decides she is no longer there to “save” people. She begins to share with Hanadi her own secrets—and an “inner war zone” that reveals why she is so driven to heal the pain of others.

     

    As Timea returns to Slovakia, she questions her own understanding of happiness as her commitment to changing the world through laughter shifts. Hanadi is left yearning to reconnect with her family.

     

     

    Six months later, we return to Jordan to capture a dramatic turn of events. Hanadi, in search of her missing husband—her place—and her purpose, makes a desperate decision to return home. Within weeks, violence erupts. She is trapped. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing to Europe.

     

     

    Both in search of a sense of belonging—and purpose—Hanadi and Timea’s human story prove there is hope amidst even the most challenging of circumstances.

     

    You might be wondering, why is this story IMPORTANT?

     

    There are more refugees in the world today than ever previously recorded—and more than half are children. The numbers continue to grow. Now 5 years into Syria’s civil war, nearly 12 million people have been displaced—and there is no peaceful outcome in sight.

     

    It is the personal stories that put a human face on the statistics, and open the door for a broader conversation about a reality much of the world has tuned out. This urgent global challenge—the millions of refugees and the risk of another lost generation—deserves attention, and exploring it through a unique lens hopefully brings deeper understanding of both the problem—and the potential.

     

     

    Ultimately, as Timea and Hanadi’s friendship strengthens over the course of nearly two years of filming, both women learn from each other—and shift their perspectives. This is what our world needs—an ability to see another point of view, and a willingness to change course. It’s a certain kind of openness that leads to tolerance.

     

    Amidst the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, this is a story about the quest for happiness, the yearning for home, and the triumph of hope. Our film is one that transcends both borders and politics. It’s about humanity.  

     

    Thank you for visiting our campaign. We hope you’ll join our mission by clicking the “follow”button in the upper right hand corner. And if you can, please contribute. Thank you for supporting the Language of Laughter!  

     

    Incentives

    $10 USD

    STAY IN THE LOOP

    We’ll keep you up to date on all news relating to the film. Receive emails, updates, and exclusive behind the scenes video.

    Claimed: 2 of 50

    $20 USD

    YOUR VERY OWN RED NOSE

    We will send you a red clown nose so you can help to spread joy and laughter throughout your own community. PLUS: We’ll keep you up to date on all news relating to the film. Receive emails, updates, and exclusive behind the scenes video.

    Claimed: 0 of 25

    $25 USD

    GET CREDIT

    Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also link to your website, blog, Twitter, or Instagram account. PLUS: we’ll keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 20

    $35 USD

    ESCAPE FROM REALITY

    Sometimes, people think of laugher as an escape from reality. Tell us the one place you’d like to be right now. We will digitally transport you there! PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also link to your website, blog, Twitter, or Instagram account, and we’ll keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 5

    $50 USD

    DIGITAL COPY OF THE COMPLETED FILM

    You’ll be able to digitally download a copy of our completed film in high definition, playable on any device. Sent to you following the initial public screenings of the film. PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also link to your website, blog, Twitter, or Instagram account, and we’ll keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Sold Out!

    $75 USD

    WE WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH

    Skype with one of our clowns from the ‘Emergency Smile’ team. Let them try to make you laugh! PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 10

    $100 USD

    PERSONALIZED CLOWN VIDEO MESSAGE

    Surprise one of your friends or family members with a personalized video message form one of the ‘Emergency Smile’ clowns. Guaranteed to bring a smile to faces of all ages. PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 5

    $200 USD

    TALK TO EMERGENCY SMILE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

    Skype with Karola Sakotnik, the Program Development and Artistic Director of Emergency Smile. Get an insiders look into the life of an NGO-worker on the ground and learn what it’s like to direct a team of clowns as they try to spread joy and laughter throughout the refugee communities. PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 2

    $250 USD

    BE THE FIRST TO HEAR OUR SOUNDTRACK

    Receive a downloadable mp3 of our main title theme from the soundtrack, a collaboration between composer Lyell Evans Roeder and award-winning Syrian violinist Mariela Shaker. PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 1 of 5

    $300 USD

    PAINT WITH WORLD-RENOWNED MURALIST

    Spend an afternoon paining with Joel Bergner on the streets of NYC. Joel is a globally-recognized muralist who will be providing original artistic renderings for the film. Date TBD. (Transportation & lodging not included). PLUS: Your name will appear as a funder on our official website. We’ll also keep you up to date on all news relating to the film.

    Claimed: 0 of 2

    $500 USD

    TALK TO THE FILMMAKER

    A half-hour, one-on-one video chat with Director Reilly Dowd. Get all your questions about the project answered and learn about the making of the film. PLUS: receive regular updates on all news relating to the film, digital HD film download, and special thanks in credits.

    Claimed: 1 of 2

    $1,000 USD

    TIMEA’S UKULELE FROM ZAATARI CAMP

    First person to donate $1,000 will receive Timea’s ukulele, which is featured numerous times in the film as she works to spread laughter throughout the refugee communities. PLUS: Receive regular updates on all news relating to the film, digital HD film download, and special thanks in credits.

     

    Claimed: 0 of 1

    $2,000 USD

    VIP PREMIERE INVITE

    Two passes to our premiere and VIP reception with Director Reilly Dowd, Producer Srdjan Stakic and others. (Transportation & lodging not included). PLUS: receive regular updates on all news relating to the film, digital HD film download, and special thanks in credits.

    Claimed: 1 of 5

    $4,000 USD

    PERFORMANCE BY AWARD-WINNING SYRIAN VIOLINIST

    Two tickets to a live performance by Mariela Shaker, a Syrian refugee and award-winning violinist. In her work with UNHCR, she performs around the world, using music as a tool to shine a light on the Syrian crisis. Date TBD. (Transportation & lodging not included).

    Claimed: 0 of 1

    $5,000 USD

    VIP BENEFACTOR

    Your incredible support will be recognized as “VIP Benefactor” in the film’s credits and on IMDB. PLUS: Two passes to our premiere and VIP reception with Director Reilly Dowd, Producer Srdjan Stakic and others. (Transportation & lodging not included.). ALSO, receive regular updates on all news relating to the film, signed copy of DVD, and a framed photo from set in Zaatari refugee camp.

    Claimed: 0 of 2

    $10,000 USD

    CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CREDIT

    A co-executive producer credit in the film and on IMDB, four VIP Premiere passes and private dinner with Director Reilly Dowd and Producer Srdjan Stakic. PLUS: receive regular updates on all news relating to the film, signed copy of DVD, framed photo from set in Zaatari, and a special thank you on our website.

     

     

    Videos

    Images

     

    Current Team

    Chad Davis
    Intern
    Emily Hadley Yackzan Masiel
    Intern
    Lyell Roeder
    Composer
    Gregory Franklin
    Assistant Producer