"A group of street-connected young people as its stars"Alex Kirschstein with permission fro Varsity

The Cambridge Film Festival is running from October 19th to 26th this year, showcasing a wide variety of new films from across the globe. In the company of Kelly MacDonald, Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal and other such big names who are set to grace the screens of Arts Picturehouse, the goal of Jamillah van der Hulst’s touching documentary I am Somebody is to focus instead on a group of street-connected young people as its stars. When I meet with Jamillah, she tells me that her purpose is to “bring attention to the plight of street children.”

I am Somebody follows three teams in the lead up to the Street Child World Cup in Qatar. Organised by Street Child United, the World Cup not only offers disadvantaged children the opportunity to express themselves through sport, but has become a powerful international platform to raise awareness and support young people who are living and working on the streets. The documentary’s title is an apt reflection of Street Child United’s mission. The children van der Hulst and her team follow have suffered at the hands of poverty and violence, and sport is largely seen as a luxury which their families cannot afford. Representing their country in the World Cup gives them an invaluable sense of confidence, allowing them to forge a new identity for themselves based on pride and community.

“Representing their country in the World Cup gives them an invaluable sense of confidence”

“It’s just such a positive, uplifting event,” Jamillah tells me, “there’s so many stories to tell.” Jamillah’s involvement with Street Child United stretches back to 2014, following the Brazil girls’ team in the film Streetkids United II. As long as there continue to be Street Child United events, Jamillah intends to keep documenting them. “We go there to film a short story and we come back with a whole documentary. There are 28 teams from 25 different countries, and from every one of those teams you can make a whole documentary.”

For this particular film, however, Jamillah focuses on three specific teams: Pakistan’s boys team, Brazil’s girls team, and Palestine’s girls team, for whom this is their first time participating in the World Cup. Jamillah worked with local filmmaking teams in each country, including two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in Pakistan, and Maria Clara Costa in Brazil, who directed Streetkids United II. “Maria already knew Drika, so it’s nice that she knew the project and knew some of the girls.” Drika was on the Brazil team who won the World Cup in 2014, and now works as a young leader for Street Child United. Her journey from player to leader is a prime example of the real impact the project has on the children involved. Drika’s infectious energy shines throughout the documentary; she is a natural leader and cares passionately about the team. Jamillah tells me about the film’s world premier at Festival do Rio, Rio de Janeiro’s international film festival: “When [a member of the Brazil team] saw the documentary she was really emotional and went straight to Drika and hugged her. You can see how much of an impact this has on these kids.”

“Drika’s infectious energy shines throughout the documentary”

While the film shines a light on the difficulties faced by street-connected children, it is ultimately the kids’ personalities which make it such a joy to watch. I ask Jamillah what it was like working so closely with them. “There’s a lot of emotions in the documentary - there’s humour, there’s happy moments, you go through all the emotions.” She recalls fondly the Brazil team’s reaction to the premier: “I said to the people who had bought tickets, ‘just so you know, it’s going to be a loud screening because it’s the first time they’ve seen themselves on the screen.’ And it was a loud screening, they were laughing and screaming and it was just really fun to watch.”


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Street Child United started right here in Cambridge, the hometown of John Rowe, the organisation’s CEO, so Jamillah hopes the festival will bring more attention to the project. “I just hope it gets the broad audience it deserves, not for me but for the boys and girls in the documentary. It’s such a positive event and a positive story and I think that’s something we need in this time, because there’s so much misery and negativity and division... I think a documentary like this can also show that there’s a lot that we’ve got in common.”

I am Somebody is screening at the Cambridge Film Festival at the Arts Picturehouse on October 22nd and 23rd