Dan Levitt ’16 and Professor Clay Haskell Tell Story of Syrian Refugee Camp

Montana Bass ’19

Senior Dan Levitt and Clay Haskell, assistant professor of film and media studies, are in the midst of pulling together the finished product after a moving independent study experience. They spent Block 2 filming a documentary focused on former Syrian wrestling star Mohammed al Krad in Za’atari, a Syrian refugee camp on the border of Syria and Jordan.

Dan Levitt '16 and Clay Haskell, assistant professor, work on a documentary film project at the Jordan-Syria border. Levitt became interested in filmmaking the summer after his sophomore year, when he took a class with Haskell. “I realized this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Levitt said. When his close family friend Linda Mason wrote an article on al Krad and the wrestling program he had built in Za’atari for The Huffington Post, Levitt was inspired and immediately saw the possibility the story held for film.

He reached out Haskell to see if he would collaborate on the project. “It was an easy choice for me,” Haskell said of working with Levitt. “He is really top quality.” To which Levitt added, “I felt an immense honor to be working with a master of the medium.”

As the retired chairwoman of Mercy Corps Leadership Council, one of the organizations providing aid for refugees in Za’atari, Mason was able to help orchestrate time for Levitt and Haskell in Za’atari. Levitt started fundraising for the trip at the beginning of this academic year. Eventually, he raised enough money to cover all costs with a combination of grants from the CC Political Science Department, the President’s Fund, a Venture Grant matched by Dean of Students Mike Edmonds, and his own Kickstarter campaign.

Conditions in Za’atari saddened both Haskell and Levitt. “We were astounded by the destitution of the situation,” said Levitt. “There’s a feeling of deep sadness because people are without the means to advance their lives. Here at CC, we have so many opportunities to pursue our passions. They’ve had everything taken from them. A lot of these people were educated professionals in Syria.”

“The border situation is a mess,” added Haskell. “People are stuck because they don’t have the financial resources to get out. Many escape across the nearest border they can find. They’re trying to get to Germany or they’re drowning in Greece. This is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis of our age.”

Amid this destitution, Mohammed al Krad stands as a symbol of community and hope. After he escaped Syria and the government’s attempts to use his celebrity to influence Syrian youth on their behalf, al Krad found himself in Za’atari and, with the help of Mercy Corps, started a wrestling program to give the boys of the camp a positive focus. “To say he was only a coach would be reductive. He was really a therapist and a community builder,” explained Levitt. “He knew the ins and outs of all their lives and was there for them, and that was reflected in their love for him.”

Now, Levitt is in the process of editing his film, which he plans to finish in about a month. Along with bringing awareness to the situation, Levitt hopes the finished product will carry the message that “even in the darkest of times, life goes on,” as he said. “People were getting married, having kids, life goes on.”

“It was an extraordinary experience all around,” said Haskell of their project. Both Levitt and Haskell express thanks for the support they received from Colorado College and Mercy Corps, which made their endeavor possible. The CC community should keep an eye out for Levitt’s documentary screening, which will probably take place later during Block 4.

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