Refugee Film Series Sparks Conversations on Campus

Boston based film-making group Community Supported Film presented their new collection of films, titled “New Immigrant and Refugee Visions” at SUNY New Paltz on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The event was hosted in Lecture Center 100 and was presented by Michael Sheridan, the founder of the organization. 

The “New Immigrant and Refugee Visions” Project (NIRV) was created with this vision in mind by having 10 new immigrants and refugees create short, documentary films about other new immigrant and refugees. 

NIRV and Community Supported Film were created to let underrepresented people groups tell their own stories. This desire originated when Sheridan was doing filming in Bangladesh for an organization called Oxfam America, and he took notice of how odd the filmmaking process was for that project.

“I had a fantastic Bangladeshi cameraperson, a fantastic Bangladeshi sound person, and other assistants, and my question to myself was, ‘”What was the white guy doing there?’” Sheridan said. “Because they were perfectly capable of telling the story that I was sent there… to tell.”

This practice of letting locals and insiders tell their own stories blossomed within the organization that Sheridan formed in 2010. Their first project was focused on Afghanistan and 10 short documentaries filmed by the country’s citizens. They undertook a five-week filmmaking course to be ready for the job. The next project would do something similar, but with a focus on the country of Haiti.

NIRV came into fruition in 2017, this time working with 10 newly emigrated immigrants creating short films about 10 other immigrants. The training period for this project would be much longer, taking roughly 15 weeks.

Three of the projects’ six films were presented at this screening. The first film, “Navigating Hope,” was directed by Afghani immigrant Sayed Hashimi. The story followed a Bhutanese refugee and his family fleeing religious persecution in his home country. 

The second film was about a Somali mother and her efforts to keep her children connected to their roots, and it was directed by Somali immigrant Abdirahman Abdi. This film is titled “Worlds Apart at Home.” 

The final film screened was “She’s an American Child,” which followed a mother-daughter duo from Puerto Rico living in America for nearly two decades. The two had left their home due to domestic violence. The daughter is also a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and both are now at risk of being deported. This movie was directed by Rafael DeLeon, an immigrant of the Dominican Republic.

After speaking with Sheridan and the directors of each film, it was clear that the goal was to share the stories of communities that concerned them, as well as to spark conversation. Sheridan recommended “talking to people you wouldn’t normally talk to” for a more thorough understanding of the immigration debate. Abdi shared a similar sentiment, stating that one should “get to know their neighbors,” as well as stating that one shouldn’t assume the worst about their neighbors.

Talking with Sheridan and the directors also shed light on the behind-the-scenes interactions between each filmmaker, which were characterized by a deep sense of community and friendship.

“It was surprising to me how well we actually built up as a team, coming from 10 different countries and backgrounds,” DeLeon said. “Since day one, everything worked out pretty well.”

On Sheridan, Hashimi said, “Working with him was a unique experience for me as I learnt to operate the camera in a professional way and luckily I am able to apply those useful techniques in my current job.”

After the films were presented, a brief discussion was held, with Sheridan taking input from the audience about the films they had just seen. The responses to the films were wholly positive, with many audience members talking about how well they related to the film. 

The audience was also engaged and asked to share their experiences relating to refugeeism and migration. Two individuals in particular shared their stories. The first one was an Egyptian woman describing her difficult journey to the United States, while the second one was a young man explaining his family’s story of coming to America during World War II. These conversations expanded upon the themes of the short films, and were a fitting way to conclude the showing.

NIRV offers an intimate look at the lives of immigrants in a truly engaging way. The films didn’t go for overt dramatics to get across their message regarding the better treatment of immigrants; they presented the lives and struggles of immigrants as is, and that made them infinitely more personable.

Each film was a unique experience, and whatever project that Community Supported Film undertakes next will be warmly welcomed.