Tzu Chi USA’s goal when producing The Resettled was to help raise public awareness of the escalating global refugee crisis, and inspire people to open their hearts to embrace the plight of refugees around the world.
The first screening took place during the USCRI National Conference that ran from May 31st to June 3rd in Arlington, Virginia. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants was one of the organizations featured in The Resettled, and this year their conference was themed “Divided by Borders. United by Purpose. Giving Voice to the Uprooted: Locally, Nationally, Globally.”
Their invitation to screen the film within their session “Telling the Refugee Story through Film and Photography” on June 3rd, was a welcome opportunity to present the dramatic stories of refugees resettled in America.
Alan Thompson, the director of The Resettled, was a presenter during the session and reported that roughly 150 people attended the event, during which he shared how difficult it was for refugees to tell their story in front of a camera, until they realized the film would help them and then they began to open up.
The questions after the presentation revealed that conference participants were interested in how Tzu Chi hopes its work will help refugees, particularly in the USA. Alan explained how promoting humanitarian action is central to Tzu Chi’s mission, and shared more about the organization’s relief work with refugees both overseas and domestically.
On June 14th, the NYFPC (United States Department of State Foreign Press Center) in New York hosted the 2nd screening of The Resettled. The Foreign Press Center does not usually host film screenings, however the topic of refugees is an important one, and so this exception was made.
Alan Thompson and George Tarr, a Liberian refugee whose story features in the film, were on hand to take questions from foreign journalists during a post-screening discussion.
Next, on June 19th, The Resettled premiered at a public screening in Brooklyn prior to World Refugee Day 2016 the next day.
George Chang, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region gave an introductory welcome before the screening, and a Q & A session followed after the film was seen.
Alan Thompson shared his motivation in making the documentary, how as a born and bred American, he wanted to understand and bring the joys and challenges of new arrivals in this nation to the screen, and also highlight the difference in their reception in big cities like New York, San Francisco, or Detroit, and small communities like Boise or Twin Falls, Idaho.
George Tarr joined the panel discussion at this screening as well, this time alongside Shawmo Autumn, who escaped from Burma and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 18 years before coming to the US.
The two took questions from the audience and offered a personal perspective on the realities refugees face around the world, such as the struggle to learn a new language and adapt to the customs and demands of a foreign culture.
For Shawmo, mastering English and functioning without a translator as soon as possible was paramount, because she knew it meant independence.
Shawmo and George both highlighted the value of the opportunity to get an education once they arrived in the US, as was echoed by all the refugees interviewed in the film.
But George also pointed out that adult refugees need more support when they arrive, because they can’t adapt or learn the language as fast as their kids, and most are forced to leave careers they once held behind, even if based on a higher education.
A concern about the welfare of others was shared by both speakers. Shawmo is currently a Tzu Chi volunteer. She is grateful for the help she received from Tzu Chi in the past, and endeavors to help others who came from a similar background as she, who are struggling at the moment. As for George, he is also searching for ways to be of service to others, as his future goals illustrate.
The final question from the audience was poignant: “Where is Home?”
Shawmo’s family now owns their own house in Indiana, and everything is looking great:
As for George, he faltered before answering…
The difference in Shawmo and George’s answers reveals the complexities of what it means to be a refugee.
After the Q & A ended, the lively audience discussion carried over into the foyer of the venue, where several audience members shared their perspective.
Dickey felt that we need to get more statistics about the contributions of refugees after they resettle in the US, how they become home owners, run businesses, and succeed. By highlighting their progress after overcoming initial difficulties, we can combat the prejudice and fear that some Americans may harbor towards outsiders.
Maybe this will be Tzu Chi USA’s next film about this topic of global concern. Overall, people were appreciative of the message that The Resettled brought forward, one of inclusion and compassion towards those in search of a safe harbor after a terrifying and dangerous journey.