Non-profit media organization and doc producer Just Vision was founded 15 years ago in response to what it perceived to be the marginalization of communities working towards peace by mainstream media. Today, it’s on a mission to help foster independent journalism and showcase the importance of grassroots advocacy.
Just Vision was created in 2003 after founding director Ronit Avni spent two years doing research on Palestinians and Israelis working in the field of non-violence.
According to Avni’s findings, many of these workers said they felt invisible within their own communities and in international circles. Just Vision’s mission aimed to address this gap by researching, documenting and sharing their stories so audiences could have a deeper understanding of another perspective in the multi-faceted story.
The organization’s executive director Suhad Babaa (pictured, right) tells realscreen that the company emerged as a platform for those Palestinians and Israelis working towards ending what they see as an occupation.
For the first decade of its existence, the company used documentary film as a way to execute its mission.
“Documentary film provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in a story you haven’t heard – to actually meet and build emotional relationships with people from Palestine and Israel they wouldn’t otherwise know,” says Babaa.
She adds that this medium also helps provide an understanding of the demands, concerns and needs of the communities on the ground.
But over the past few years, Just Vision has diversified its operations.
It co-founded the digital Hebrew-language publication Local Call in April 2014 in partnership with the Israel-based, non-governmental organization 972 Advancement of Citizen Journalism. In the first year alone, the website reached 850,000 people.
In 2013, Just Vision adapted its 2009 documentary, Budrus, into an Arabic graphic novel of the same name. The film focused on young heroine Iltezam Morrar, who prevented a bulldozer from uprooting the village’s olive trees by jumping in front of it.
The purpose of the graphic novel, said Babaa and creative director Julia Bacha (pictured, left), was to reach a younger demographic – specifically Palestinian youth – with the story’s themes of the importance of women’s leadership and best practices for unarmed resistance.
They also noted that the graphic novel has been used as part of the curriculum in Palestinian public schools across the West Bank.
Bacha says when Just Vision began working on its first film, the company was comprised of just four women – now a core team of 10 – with a clear idea of what they wanted their organization to accomplish.
However, Bacha says Just Vision is not an advocacy organization – they are not lobbyists. The goal of the organization is to give voice to those underrepresented in the media landscape.
Part of that process involves taking their docs beyond the traditional festival circuit and deeper into communities.
Early on in the company’s inception, it was decided that each film’s release would coincide with an intensive outreach campaign aimed at students, educators and faith communities – groups that could mobilize their communities. Just Vision also looked to mainstream media, decision-makers and politicians. Their efforts have led them to places of influence, such as the White House, the World Economic Forum, refugee camps, universities, community centers and assorted women’s groups.
Babaa says Just Vision operates on a model that aims to ensure the longevity of each project.
“There is a quite a bit of work done behind the scenes with outreach teams, building relationships with educators, media, politicians and women’s groups. They provide feedback to make sure films like Naila and the Uprising are able to deliver the message and change the conversation on the issue,” she says.
The team at Just Vision is based out of Washington, DC and New York, and have operations in East Jerusalem. Many of the stories come from the communities where the teams are located.
Over the past 14 years, Bacha says the reception to their work has been “remarkably positive” considering the difficulty and divisiveness of the issue – especially in the United States.
“The stories that we tell have a remarkable capacity of removing some of the barriers and some of the fears that often lead to heavy debate – the more nasty arguments around this issue,” she says.
She acknowledges, however, that their films might not be “universally loved” by the public. Despite finding disagreement on particular aspects of projects, those who are part of the team are still respected for their approach to the issue, said Bacha.
While there is a thread that connects the body of work, there has also been a progression in terms of approach and subject matter, beginning with 2006′s Encounter Point — a film about both Palestinians and Israelis working towards peace — all the way to 2017′s Naila and the Uprising, which looks at the life of Naila Ayesh and the First Intifada in the late 1980s.
“Putting a spotlight on civilians and the power of the grassroots to lead is a very timely theme in the current climate – in the United States and across the world,” says Bacha.
Now in its 15th anniversary year, Babaa says the current vision for the company is to grow independent journalism by sustaining projects like Local Call, while simultaneously rolling out Naila in the film festival circuit prior to a full-fledged education campaign.
Photo of Julia Bacha by Maike Schultz/Suhad Babaa by Haithem Hammad