FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Refugees, Settled in Montana, to Tell Their Stories in Film

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.40.22 AM

On his way to see the badlands of Eastern Montana, Congolese musician Joel Makeci explored some wide-open spaces near the Montana-North Dakota state line—quite a change from the crowded refugee camp where he spent 20 years. Photo courtesy of New Neighbors Project.

Much has been written about the African and Middle Eastern refugees who have resettled in Missoula in the past year, welcomed by many and looked at with fear and disdain by many others.

Now, some of those refugees will be using video cameras to tell their own stories of what it means to resettle so far from home, and to share with the rest of us their perceptions of their new surroundings.

The goal of the New Neighbors Project—billed as the nation’s first refugee filmmaking cooperative—is to complete 10 short films by refugees from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Parts of those films will then be used to create a 40-minute documentary that also incorporates the perspectives of the team of Montanans working on the project.

The larger goal, according to a press release from the group, is to “initiate a bridging dialogue that helps new and established Montanans erase misperceptions, allay fears, and build trust and understanding.”

Ryan Seitz, a Billings Senior High graduate who is a co-producer and director of the project, said the origins of the project go back to early last fall. He had already made a couple of documentaries, “Freeload” and “Skips Stones for Fudge,” and he was, he said, “really itching to start a new project.”

Seitz lives in Missoula and had recently met another filmmaker, Bryan Bello, who had moved back to Missoula from Washington, D.C., where he had run a filmmaking co-op that encouraged homeless people to document their lives on the streets. Some of the films created by the co-op were screened at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of the American Indian.

They discussed starting a community film center in Missoula and trying to create a similar project. In talking with a friend who worked for Soft Landing Missoula, an organization that helps refugees get settled in the area, Seitz realized that it was, as he said, “a great population to pilot our new model with.”

Seitz had worked as operations manager for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this past February, and alumni of the festival were offered the chance to pitch prospective films at a session hosted by the Tribeca Film Institute. By that time, he and Bello had begun assembling a team, and their pitch about making a documentary based on short films by refugees ended up winning the pitch session.

Tribeca, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, awarded the New Neighbors Project a $20,000 grant.

The project has already been working with 10 refugee families, all of whom arrived in Missoula within the past year, several in the past two months. Participants in a media production workshop included a single mother and her 9-year-old daughter, a Congolese musician who built a following during his 20 years—yes, 20 years—in a Tanzanian refugee camp, and an Iraqi barber who worked as an interpreter for U.S. armed forces.

Now, the New Neighbors Project has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise an additional $30,000 to buy cameras, hard drives and microphones for the refugee filmmakers, and stipends for translators. The Kickstarter page has more information about the project, as well as a film trailer.

One portion of the description reads: “Follow refugees as they venture into dramatic western terrains (both physical and social) and glimpse the spirit of our changing state.  Hunters from Central-Africa teach ones from Middle-America new ways to slaughter a goat and stylists from the Middle East give a fresh look to conservative mountain fashions.”

Seitz said the workshops are still in the early stages but are going well. He and his associates teach three sections a week, men’s and women’s classes in Swahili for the Congolese refugees and a class in Arabic for the Middle Eastern refugees.

He said the short films will be shown in Missoula and around Montana. The filmmakers will retain the copyright to their work and will keep all proceeds from the screening of their films.

The 40-minute documentary is scheduled to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April 2018, after which it will tour nationally.

In addition to the film work, the project has a musical component.

Seitz said his friend Gabe Sweeney, a musician and audio engineer, has been working with Makeci, the Congolese musician, to record original music. They have already produced one digital album and are working on another one now. Sweeney and Makeci are also producing the music for the documentary.

Seitz said the team of people working on the project “came together quite organically—friends of friends, fellow film enthusiasts that we were acquainted with around town and members from Soft Landing Missoula.”

This piece first appeared in Last Best News.

More articles by:

Ed Kemmick lives in Billings, Montana and edits LastBestNews.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 18, 2019
Gerald Sussman
Russiagate is Dead! Long Live Russiagate!
Lance Olsen
Perverse Housing Policy Perverts Forest Policy
Richard Ward
All Will be Punished
Jonathan Cook
Annexation of West Bank May Provide Key to Unlocking Netanyahu’s Legal Troubles
Judith Deutsch
People Music: Malignant Phallic Narcissism v. Being Ordinary
Jan Oberg
The Iran Floods and US Sanctions: 10 Million at Risk, But Who Cares?
Manuel E. Yepe
Assange: Between Gratitude and Betrayal
Ralph Nader
Children’s Moral Power Can Challenge Corporate Power on Climate Crisis
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Your Check is in the Mail
Binoy Kampmark
The European Union and Refugees in the Mediterranean
Arnold R. Isaacs
Looking Back at 1919: Immigration, Race, and Women’s Rights, Then and Now
Andrew Moss
Immigration and the Shock Doctrine
Michael Howard
Assange and the Cowardice of Power
Jesse Jackson
Making Wall Street Pay for the Financial Crisis
Mel Gurtov
At Risk—the Idea of America
April 17, 2019
James Bovard
Washington’s Biggest Fairy Tale: “Truth Will Out”
Yoav Litvin
The Ilhan Omar Gambit: Anti-Semitism as a Reactionary Political Tool
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Hawai’i in Trouble
Vijay Prashad
To Ola Bini, a Political Prisoner Caught Up in the Assange Debacle
Hans Muilerman and Jonathan Latham
EU Threatens to Legalize Human Harm From Pesticides
Binoy Kampmark
Delegitimising Journalism: The Effort to Relabel Julian Assange
Jack Rasmus
Trump Whacks the Middle Class
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Burning Cathedral and the Dead Turtle
Kenneth Surin
Insurgencies in Malaysia and Vietnam: Boyhood Reflections
Rev. William Alberts
Opening Tombs and Resurrecting Lives
Tom Engelhardt
How the U.S. Military Feeds at the Terror Trough
Norman Solomon
The Toxic Lure of “Guns and Butter”
George Wuerthner
How to Stop Grazing on Public Lands: Buy Out the Permits
George Ochenski
Vote-Trading for Big Coal
John Stanton
The Price of Participating in Society is the Sacrifice of Privacy and Self
April 16, 2019
Richard Rubenstein
Julian and Martin: Reflections on the Arrest of Assange
Geoff Dutton
Talking Trash: Unfortunate Truths About Recycling
Kenn Orphan
A Land Uncharted: the Persecution of Julian Assange
Patrick Cockburn
Netanyahu’s Victory in Israel Tells Us About the Balance of Power in the Middle East
Robert Fisk
No More Excuses: Israeli Voters Have Chosen a Country that Will Mirror the Brutal Regimes of its Arab Neighbours
Jonah Raskin
The French (Bread) Connection in a Bourgeois California Town
Denis Rogatyuk
The Ordeal of Julian Assange
David Swanson
Exporting Dictators
Ted Rall
Self-Censorship is Credibility Suicide
Robert Koehler
War Crimes and National Security
Lee Ballinger
None Dare Call It Fascism
April 15, 2019
Bruce Neuburger
The Border, Trumpian Madness and the Clash of Demographics
Patrick Cockburn
Calling Assange a Narcissist Misses the Point
Conn Hallinan
Diego Garcia: The “Unsinkable Carrier” Springs a Leak
Dan Corjescu
State of Apocalyptic Nature: A Contract with Gaia
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail