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Film by Longview's Dylan Bergeson looks at lives of Palestinian children

Photo by Roger Werth

Cindy Hooper, general manager of the Kelso Red Lion, shows off the plans for the lobby renovation scheduled for later this year, including the new colors, furniture and designs.

For Palestinian children living in the West Bank, violence can't be shut off with the flick of TV switch.

Their constant exposure to sectarian violence intrigued Longview resident Dylan Bergeson, who spent a few months in the Middle East interviewing Palestinian children for a documentary he hopes gives them a voice.

He produced the film last school year for a senior project at Western Washington University's Fairhaven College, and "This Body is a Prison" has begun a West Coast tour.

His work focuses on children of Israeli-occupied Bethlehem and Nablus. Bergeson found the kids so numbed by terror and violence that they have no vision for their own future.

"The entire situation is heart breaking," he said in an interview in Longview last week. "I think a lot of people will see Palestinians humanized in a way they never have before."

Bergeson flew to the Middle East in December without a clear focus for his film. He spent time absorbing the area's history and culture and responded to crisis situations as an emergency medical volunteer.

After visiting a mental health clinic and meeting people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he decided to focus on how the ongoing violence affects children.

In Bethlehem, violence has waned over the last three of four years, but he found a group of teenage girls who pretended they're not Palestinian by acting out the lives of fictitious characters such as Harry Potter.

'This Body is a Prison'
Bergeson will show his film at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Lower Columbia College's Student Center and at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 and 15 at the Kelso Theater Pub, 214 S Pacific Ave.

One even talked with in a British accent, he said. "She was trying to live her life as much as possible like she was somebody else."

At the Balata refugee camp — located in the City of Nablus — children incorporated the scary events they have witnessed into the games they played. They engaged in fighting for sport. The situation has created what Bergeson called a "culture of hopelessness" where school closures make education scarce and where every resident seems to have lost a loved one to violence.

At a mental health clinic there, children drew pictures of people lying on ground — blood spurting out of their bodies.

"Balata is a mess," Bergeson said. "Bullet holes cover everything. There's frequent demolitions of houses. .. .It's kind of what you would imagine if you were thinking of a refugee camp."

Bergeson returned to Fairhaven in April and finished the documentary within a month of his return. He continued to fine tune it the summer after graduating. Overall, the 48-minute film took nearly 10 months to produce.

Bergeson attended Mark Morris High School and Lower Columbia College before enrolling at WWU. He began studying journalism there but wasn't satisfied with many U.S. journalists' coverage of Middle Eastern issues.

His documentary is for "anybody who is interested in hearing stories that will help them understand the situation," he said. "It is an approach to the situation that we don't ever get. … I made the decision to focus on the humanity of the issue rather than the politics."

"This Body is a Prison" was declared the best documentary feature at Bellingham's NW Projections Film Festival in November.

"What he shows is the trauma that happens over and over and over again, " said Fairhaven instructor Barbara Rofkar, who's had Bergeson in a few classes. "He looks at those who don't have a voice and whose plight is misunderstood in this culture. … I think the future of our country is very much going to be determined by people like Dylan who have a love for humanity."

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