Tina Gharavi is a film maker who came to Tyneside from Iran, via New Zealand and the US. She is teaching Digital Media at the University of Newcastle, produces and directs films and runs a charity, Bridge + Tunnel Voices, which she founded with a mission to focus on issues related to migration, identity and creativity. The charity exemplifies Tina’s passion about inclusion and about giving a voice to the “unheard voices and untold stories” of refugees and asylum seekers. As a refugee herself, escaping the Iranian revolution in 1979, Tina has a unique perspective on refugee issues and is therefore able to relate directly with the losses and fears of those she now supports.
In 2012, and despite having no film finance, Tina completed a feature film I Am Nasrine, a coming-of-age story about a young Iranian teenager that Sir Ben Kingsley described as “an important and much needed film” because of its positive and realistic depictions of refugees in the North East of England.
Many refugees acted in the film and gained valuable media skills working on it as part of the crew.
I Am Nasrine has already been seen by tens of thousands of people in the UK and also in Germany, Italy, Poland, the US, Canada, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere. Each screening draws attentions to the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, with a special focus on the North East.
I Am Nasrine was nominated for BAFTA in 2013.
Tina has used her drive and determination to inspire people from refugee communities. She supports their causes by extensive lobbying of parliamentarians, including organising meetings and gaining the support of her local MP David Miliband to promote refugee rights in South Shields and the wider North East. As part of this campaign, I Am Nasrine was screened at the Houses of Parliament in May 2012 to a group of MP’s, the press and people from the media industry, as well as representatives from refugee and asylum-seeker groups.
Leila is just one example of a refugee whose life Tina has helped to change. Leila came from Iran with her two children and joined Tina’s group shortly afterwards. Her asylum application had not been granted and she was experiencing an incredible sense of loss, anxiety, and frustration at not being able to provide a better life for her children. Though she had no experience of being involved in media, she had a desire to develop her story and through the group, she learned how to make a film. She worked on joint projects (Inside Kooch – A documentary made by the group themselves about the Kooch Cinema Project and Bitter-sweet Songs of Freedom – a drama focusing on issues of displacement and family relationships) and made her own short fiction film about the experiences of being an asylum seeker in Newcastle. She then went on to make an astounding film about the attitudes of women to the experience of cheating husbands for which she interviewed western women about their experiences of infidelity and created a group where women from the east and west could meet to discuss these experiences.
Tina also runs a project for the children of asylum-seekers and refugees (Kooch Kids) that teaches media skills to enable these young people to tell their own stories and several participants in the project are now working in the media or have gone on into further education. One Kooch participant, Kambez recently entered a master’s programme at Oxford University. Most importantly, the media skills that have been learned on the project are giving the group’s participants a feeling of empowerment as well as the ability to tell their own stories. This allows them to feel more self-confident in their day-to-day lives and permits them to integrate better into the wider community in the North East.
photography by Jason Wen, Spot of Bother