by Maya Navon
Finding Refuge emerged from an extremely challenging yet life-changing college course. When the three filmmakers entered the course “Producing Films for Social Change,” we had no idea that we were about to begin an emotionally charged, fast-paced, and eye-opening period of our lives. In September 2012, we did not know how to use a camera, edit a clip, or even write a treatment. Over the course of 3.5 months, we learned each and every aspect of creating a film, from the research stage to post-production, and emerged with a 20-minute piece that we were proud to share.
The idea for Finding Refuge stemmed from a class discussion about the topic of refugees. Armed with this very broad topic, we preceded to contact various refugee organizations. After weeks of trying to find just the right niche in this realm, we finally made a breakthrough with the connection to Natasha Soolkin, director of the New American Center in Lynn, MA. We knew that we wanted to focus on refugee resettlement in the United States; particularly, the various challenges and triumphs newly resettled refugees face when they arrive in the United States. However, we also knew that this topic would have no impact without a personal story. We needed a refugee to share his or her experiences, and it would be no small feat to find someone. Luckily, Natasha had just the person for us who would bring a voice to this issue: Mani.
Once we connected with Mani, the documentary finally took shape. We spent countless hours interviewing Mani and his family, touring his home and office, and getting a glimpse into his new American life. We also spoke to a wide variety of experts and workers in the field of refugee resettlement to gain a broader understanding of the journey from a place of turmoil to a new life in the United States. In a few months we had our final product: a piece shedding light on refugee resettlement through the story of one courageous, hard-working, and resilient man.
Our connection with Mani extended far beyond filmmaker and subject. He touched our lives with his story and made us realize the true meaning of strength. After spending 17 years in a refugee camp, Mani managed to keep his spirit and his thirst for success alive. The perpetual smile on his face reminded us to always stay positive, even in the face of hardship.