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Children are experts at creating something out of nothing. A wad of paper becomes a soccer ball, two insects a zoo.

Zaatari Djinn is an exceptionally intimate movie about the resilience of children who have a much rosier view of life than adults.

In the middle of the Jordanian desert, where there's nothing but sand, unbearable summers and winters with snowstorms, a few tents were set up for a couple of hundred Syrian refugees. Then, quick as lightning, improvised shacks and caravans were attached to new tents and out of nothing arose Zaatari, a new city, the population of which is 80% children.

Through the eyes of four children, we get to see and feel what it is like to grow up in this place, with very few resources or prospects, but with an enormous scope for dreams. Zaatari may be a place without a history or a future, but for the children it is a home.


Avant premiere: February 26 - film & debate in De Balie Amsterdam

From March 2 in cinemas and on demand via Filmthuis

De Balie - Amsterdam

Rialto - Amsterdam (4 maart DocuPodium)

't Hoogt - Utrecht

LantarenVenster - Rotterdam

Verkadefabriek - Den Bosch

Filmtheater Hilversum

Chasse Cinema - Breda

LUX - Nijmegen

Groninger Forum - Groningen

Lumiere - Maastricht

De Lieve Vrouw - Amersfoort

Concordia - Enchede

Fraterhuis - Zwolle

Cultuurcentrum Griffioen - Amstelveen


Director:                          Catherine van Campen
Cinematographer:         Jean Counet & Jefrim Rothuizen
Sound:                              Mark Wessner
Editor:                              Albert Markus
Sounddesign:                  Marc Lizier
Music:                              Alex Simu
Producers:                       Iris Lammertsma & Boudewijn Koole | Witfilm
Distributor:                     Cinema Delicatessen i.c.w. Herrie Film & TV

Duration:  90 minutes



Catherine van Campen (1970) lives and works in Amsterdam where she studied History at the University of Amsterdam. She started off as director of radio documentaries and plays, but since 2007 she has also become an independent documentary filmmaker. Her documentaries have been screened and gained awards worldwide (e.g. at Moma New York, Berlinale, Hot Docs, Visions du Réel and IDFA). With her youth documentary Anne Vliegt (2010) she became internationally known as a filmmaker. This short film about the young Anne with Tourette’s Syndrome was shown at more than 100 international film festivals and won more than twenty awards. Her documentary Painful Painting (2011) was selected for the national and international competition at IDFA. Her last film Garage 2.0. won the Golden Calf award for Best Documentary, the top prize awarded by the Netherlands Film Festival.

Besides directing documentaries Catherine van Campen is also supervisor of the documentary workshop at IDFA and she is part of the advisory board of the Documentary Fund for the Dutch public broadcasting system.


The majority of the residents in Zaatari refugee camp are from Deraa, a region in the south-west of Syria. It was in Deraa that the very first protests against Assad’s regime were staged in 2011. The region is known for the entrepreneurial spirit of its population.

What is highly remarkable about Zaatari is the pace at which this camp developed into a city. As soon as its inhabitants arrived, they opened up shops and started small businesses in the camp. The residents then regrouped themselves according to which village in Deraa they came from, and in no time at all, families, friends and acquaintances were living together in the same street again. Districts have now emerged in which people appoint their own leader (‘the mayor’), and the city has formed around a central shopping street, dubbed the Champs-Élysées. Everything, from bridal gowns to chicks, can be bought here. There are hairdressers and small restaurants and even a small garage, where our film crew could get their car tyre fixed.

All the children in the film are from Deraa, except Fatma who is from Damascus. There are only a handful of people from Damascus in the camp, which makes these families socially isolated.

Hammoudi Al-Mansour lived with his parents, little brother, grandpa and grandma in a very big, beautiful mansion with a large garden and huge chestnut trees. His family was rich, owned six cars and was held in high esteem. Hammoudi’s father worked for the police. Refugees that used to work for the Syrian army or police are immediately separated from their families by the Jordanian government once they arrive. The fear is that, otherwise, Syrian secret services will get a foothold in the refugee camps. Hammoudi’s father wanted to avoid being separated from his wife, two sons and parents at all costs and concealed his history as a former police captain when they arrived in the camp. The money they brought with them soon ran out in Zaatari and Hammoudi’s dad started a small falafel restaurant. This did so well that long queues formed every day. With the money they earned, the family bought a large electronics business, which also did really well. Flat screen televisions in particular did a roaring trade; a lot of TV is watched in Zaatari, with the men following the fighting rebels and the women and children following soap operas in great numbers. Hammoudi’s family was now able to build a nice house with a well-equipped kitchen and bar, a generator to provide the air con with continuous power, and they even built a small swimming pool at grandpa’s place for Hammoudi and his brother to swim in. All this prosperity came to an end when Hammoudi’s father was deported from the camp and forced to go back to Syria. The successful shop closed down and Hammoudi’s mum increasingly struggled to make ends meet, while also being pregnant with her third child. After the child was born, they decided to follow the father and return to Syria. They now live fairly close to the Jordanian border because it’s relatively safe there, but they’re not really safe as long as the war continues.

Maryam Al-Hariri
 is also from Deraa, where she lived in a small countryside house on a large piece of land surrounded by beautiful trees. They grew their own food and kept cows and sheep. Maryam has a younger brother and little sister. Her family fled to Zaatari, but her father soon went back to Syria to look after the animals and the house, little of which remained after air raids, unfortunately. Maryam misses her father very badly. Whenever they can establish a connection, they telephone each other. Some of her uncles and aunts stayed behind in Syria, despite the war. Two months ago Maryam saw horrific photos on Whatsapp of her 5 and 8-year-old nephews who were killed in bombings. Maryam comes from a traditional family in which education and school for girls don’t have the highest priority. But in Zaatari Maryam blossoms, she enjoys school and applies for every single course and workshop that is offered in the camp. She plays in the Zaatari girls’ football team, goes to circus school, learns how to paint with graffiti, takes photographs for another course, but above all is dedicated to stage acting and falls in love with Shakespeare. Maryam is offered opportunities that she didn’t get in her former life, but unfortunately not everyone is equally thrilled about this. Her father piles on the pressure and Maryam can no longer play football or act.

Ferras Adnan
barely knew his real mother and was cared for by his father’s second wife from an early age. His father used to be the director of a small factory producing sweets. The sweets, which are called ‘raga’, were sold widely throughout the area. Ferras, the oldest son, was destined to take over the factory. They lived in a reasonably big house with a garden where Ferras could swim in the pond. When skirmishes with the army broke out, his father fled to Zaatari with his children and his second wife. Here, Ferras’s father, who has a limp, started to produce again the sweets, which Ferras has to sell in the camp. Ferras totes a tray of sweets on his head, thereby providing his family with a subsistence wage. Ferras gets very angry when his father falls in love with another woman in the camp and marries for the third time. The family is under a lot of strain because the second and the third wife have to live under the same roof, which isn’t really working out. Dad hits the children frequently. Ferras goes through life in Zaatari camp stoically and dreams of his future outside of the camp. He wants to become the manager of a big supermarket.

Fatma Al-Badawy 
was born in Damascus and grew up there with her father, mother, little brother and sister. There aren’t many other families from Damascus, which makes them feel like the odd family out in the camp. Fatma’s mother used to run a kind of children’s daycare at home and was used to working. She thinks life in the camp is hard and often squabbles with her teenage daughter, while still being very fond of her. Fatma is a rebellious and feisty girl who has gone through a lot with her dad. Her mother bought some chicks and a rooster for her a few years ago, and Fatma fell in love with the rooster. He became the friend she could tell everything and which she eventually even got to do tricks. Sadly, her father took Rooster to the butcher’s because he had eaten their plants. For a long time afterwards, Fatma was inconsolable.

Nour Al-Houda Abo Jaish
 has amazing parents who used to own a very big pet store in Deraa. They reopened it in the camp: there are hundreds of species of birds, hens, roosters, cats and sometimes even donkeys. Nour is a special girl who always wears beautiful dresses. She wants to be a camerawoman and we got to know her when she was filming us from the top of a roof as we were following Fatma who was going to get a new rooster. Standing on the rooftop in her pink dress and filming everything with her pink mobile phone, Nour was just like an angel or muse to all the children. We decided to film her in this pink dress every time we stayed in the camp, and in this way she became our angel too, our good djinn.