Welcome to Ouzville
According to common belief, Ouzai is a militia stronghold – a place of extreme poverty and illegal trafficking of car parts, drugs, and criminals. Cut off by the Lebanese state, it became a safe haven for gangs and remained a neglected and impoverished slum for 40 years. Yet, for one visionary and a team of volunteers, Ouzai is a place to build dreams.
Jay B. Jammal’s childhood was characterized by an era of wars and constant moving around the Middle East. Through these moves he came to discover various countries and cultures. He first discovered his love for media as a teen when him and his brother experimented with the family’s first video camera. What started off as comedy skits soon turned into a creative passion for tackling tougher and more challenging topics through videos and short films. Today Jay serves as a media specialist for companies in the Middle East. However, every once in a while, he comes across a story that inspires him to create an independent media project. “Welcome to Ouzville” is one of those stories.
While teaching and researching community-based arts at the University of Arizona I came across the story of Ouzville. What struck me most about this specific project was that it took place in Ouzai, which was known as the no trespass danger zone in the south of Beirut. I knew this was one of the most difficult places on earth to carry out such an initiative and so I was very intrigued. During a summer visit to Beirut, I reached out to Ouzville’s founder, Mr. Ayad Nasser, and was struck by his motivation to cater to the most dangerous, controversial, and neglected areas of Lebanon. I liked his brave approach, and I appreciated the risks he was taking. His motto was “we go where no organization goes”. The next day, Ayad took me on a tour of Ouzville and it was love at first sight. By crossing into those dangerous borders, I found myself in a sea of colorful murals, amongst crowds of artists and volunteers, and hanging out with local kids and teens that were meticulously engaged in this initiative. It was not what I expected. There was a breath of enthusiasm in the air, people were motivated, opposition was building, and a risky endeavor on the edge of making world headlines was at hand. Aware of the dangers, aware of the obstacles, aware of the potential, I recognized that this was a story worth capturing and a perspective worth sharing. I put together a small team and started what was the most dangerous, enthusiastic, and rewarding project of my life.