October 30, 2015

Filmmaker Shares Film on Refugees with Students in Advance of UNHCR Lecture

Several hours before a Global Futures lecture by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, Georgetown students had the opportunity to view and discuss a groundbreaking new film about refugees with one of its directors.

The film, Salam Neighbor, tells the story of the two filmmakers as they live for a month in the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan. Just seven miles south of the Syrian border, the camp is now home to over 79,000 Syrian refugees, displaced by the conflict in their country. The filmmakers’ project was the first time that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, agreed to register non-refugees to live in and document their experiences in a camp.

In 70 minutes, the film shows the directors’ journey from negotiating their idea with UN officials to setting up their tent to interacting with others in the camp. It is a harrowing journey at times: in one sequence, the filmmakers convince a reluctant young refugee friend to go to school, only to learn that he had not wanted to return to school since his former school in Syria had been bombed, leaving some of his classmates dead.

One of the filmmakers, Chris Temple of Living on One Productions, answered questions from students and staff following the screening about his month in the camp (which, he acknowledged, pales in comparison to the 17 years that an average refugee spends in a camp). Many questions sought to further draw out Temple’s experience in the Za’atari camp with co-director Zach Grasci. Some students who had been to Jordan or visited refugee camps elsewhere shared their experiences as well.

In response to a question from a student, Temple said that he and Grasci feel it is important to keep up with the subjects of their films. Thanks to mobile text and chat apps, they are able maintain relationships with the people they meet and continue to add detail and currency to the film. Temple concluded by reminding the audience that refugees are part of our global neighborhood, and how we choose to respond to their needs will affect all of us. He emphasized that the real project of Salam Neighbor was—and is—to humanize refugees as people deserving of human dignity.

The screening was part of an afternoon’s worth of programing dedicated to the global refugee crisis, which has reached levels unseen since World War II. In advance of a lecture delivered by the high commissioner, the film allowed students and staff to see the challenges, triumphs, sorrows, and joys of life in a refugee camp.

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