Sea of Hope - Building compassion for refugees through the power of film

THE SHOCKING IMAGES of immigrants travelling in inadequate boats across perilous seas to the UK in the hope of a better life, is something we are all too familiar with.

Despite the often tragic outcomes for many desperate men, women and children who flee their country in the pursuit of safety, one can almost feel powerless and ultimately disconnected from someone else’s battle for survival.

But this is not true of Walid Salhab, a lecturer in media practice at QMU.

Originally from Lebanon, Walid is an award-winning filmmaker who has worked at QMU for nearly 20 years. Known for his mesmerising short films of Edinburgh and Scotland, he has gained international recognition for his unique and dynamic style of stop motion/time-lapse filming.

Having fled war-torn Lebanon at the tender age of 17, Walid knows only too well what it feels like to be displaced and separated from family. After several turbulent years living in Tripoli, Walid was then forced by militia to transport wounded soldiers away from frontline fighting. Following a harrowing situation where he witnessed his best friend and a soldier being shot in front of him, his parents knew they had to get him out. They paid for international flights and Walid ended up in Scotland. Edinburgh has been his home ever since.

Over the last 30 years, Walid honed his craft as a filmmaker. While at QMU, he has researched and developed new techniques for filming which have gained him an international reputation as a short filmmaker. He has also helped thousands of QMU students develop their skills and knowledge of the film and media industry and successfully launch their own businesses.

Walid’s latest creation, ‘Sea of Hope’, is a deeply touching animated short film about a migrant father and son’s journey across the sea. His gift for visual storytelling, on a subject that is so relevant to our times, is having an impact across the globe. Sea of Hope has won over 50 awards at international film festivals, from Vancouver to Dubai. And the award list seems to increase every week!

Walid said: “After doing so much stop-motion/time-lapse filming, I had to learn something new, to keep my teaching fresh for my students. Sea of Hope has been four years in the making. I taught myself how to do animation, and I nearly gave up. It took two years of research and two years of actual filmmaking. But I just felt I needed to use my skills – do what I could – to share this story and create an emotional and visual connection with the plight of refugees. These are desperate people – they have nothing. We need to ‘see’ them and show compassion for our fellow human beings.”

Walid employed a process which uses 3D animation, which is then transformed into 2D hand-drawn traditional artistic animation.

He explained: “I made the whole film as a 3D animation film then I passed all the shots in separate layers to the artist, Cristiana Messina, who used a process called rotoscoping. The process uses animation techniques to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame, to produce realistic action. In our case, that was the 3D animation I had produced.”

Discussing its success, Walid said: “I completed the film in January 2022 and the response on the international film festival circuit has been overwhelming. It’s made semi-finalist or has won best animation film in many different festivals, but it’s also
received awards as best short, best director and best sound.”

Walid concluded: “It has been a gruelling but rewarding experience. Most years, I like to create a film which makes a connection with people. But, as a visual storyteller, Sea of Hope is probably one of the most important short films I’ve ever produced. It shares an important message which goes beyond any borders, and I hope it helps reinforce the need for compassion and understanding in our turbulent and ever-changing world."

Walid’s is now working on a feature animated film called ‘Once upon a time in Lebanon’.