As much as Facebook can drive me crazy, I’ve also found it is a wonderful resource to find out about articles, projects and movements I otherwise may have missed in the barrage of the world’s advertisements and messages. This week’s inspiration goes out to a post my rockin’ cousin, Susanna Taylor, (whose own fashion blog can be seen here), whose friends are making a documentary that I am squealing with delight to see. If you want to smile big and feel your heart grow three sizes today check out the trailer below, it made three of Atlas’ board members tear up!
We at Atlas decided to pick the clearly brilliant brains of the filmmakers, check our interview below! Or, if you’re short on time but big on heart and want everyone you know to see the film, just click here to find out how you can support the film!
Atlas: DIY: What made you interested in this topic/ how did you find out about this school?
Bill and Adam: When we started this film, we were still undergraduates at the Savannah College of Art and Design. At the time, we had been taking a course on the effects of technology on globalization. Many of our film ideas ended up being provoked by discussions held in class. Simultaneously, we had both been reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat and were fascinated by the idea of a shrinking world in the cultural sense.
We were in the midst of looking for a subject for our senior thesis when we came across an article about “The International Community School” (ICS) in the New York Times. The school brings together refugee children from war-torn countries and teaches them alongside local American kids. It seemed like the perfect setting for the story we were interested in. Within two weeks after reading the article, we had spoken with the school’s principal and visited the school. Immediately, we realized ICS held so many fascinating stories waiting to be told. Right off the bat, we knew this was the film we wanted to make.
Atlas DIY: In your trailer a teacher talks about how valuable diversity is in the classroom. How did you see that specifically played out while you were making this film?
Bill and Adam: You’re referring to the Principal of the school, Laurent Ditmann. He was talking about how not only is diversity in the classroom hugely important, but it’s also something that one has to consciously build. How the interaction between kids from vastly different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds plays out in the classroom often varies. Younger children never seemed to really notice any difference – they were just kids playing and learning together. The older kids are aware of that the fact that their peers may be very different from them, but in a community like the one ICS has created, they embrace it for the most part and realize that they are in a unique and valuable learning environment.
Atlas DIY: There is an interesting dichotomy in our country between “immigrants” and “refugees”. Did you find a difference in how the children identified themselves/each other in terms of this terminology?
Bill and Adam: During the two years we were there, none of the kids ever used the terms refugee or immigrant when referring to themselves or their classmates. They would often and proudly state where they were from. As in, “I’m from Liberia!” We never heard anyone say, “I’m a Liberian refugee”. It seemed to us that the terms immigrant and refugee were things that Americans would use to classify people not born in the US, between those who chose to come here and those who did not. It also seemed that many of the refugee and immigrant parents didn’t particularly want a label that would in someway separate them from the rest of American society. So, perhaps the absence of the terms at home influenced the lack of them in the classroom.
Atlas DIY: What effect do you think strict immigration-enforcement laws, such as those we are seeing being implemented in states like Arizona and Alabama, have on the development of the communities similar to those found in your film?
Bill and Adam: Georgia has actually adopted a very similar law to the one in Arizona and although it wasn’t a subject of our film, it is pretty easy to surmise the effects of what a law like that has on a refugee population. Refugees are fleeing violence, persecution, and racism to seek out a better life. Many have an idealized preconception of what the United States is before they arrive. To many it’s a place where they can live in safety and make a life for themselves and their family in peace. Then they come here and are told about a law where they can be stopped because of their physical appearance and will be forced to provide necessary documentation to prove they are legal or risk being taken away, detained, or sent back to the same country they’ve tried so hard to escape from.
All of a sudden the idea they had of what America is, or at least what was promoted to them (a tolerant and accepting democracy) is shattered, and once again they are forced to be constantly wary and suspicious of authority. This resentment in turn is passed down to the children and pretty soon major divides in communities begin to appear. This is exactly the opposite of what makes for a vibrant and thriving community – no matter where you are.
Atlas DIY: How did making this film change your understanding of the immigration debate in our country?
Bill and Adam: Making this film helped to give us a newfound appreciation for this country. There are definite problems within this country, but for so many it truly is a place to start anew. We became aware of the enormous tasks of many of the refugee and immigration service organizations in this country and how little support they often receive. It also challenged our own preconceptions of America and introduced us to issues we were previously unaware of. One of the things that seemed especially commonplace at the school was that so many of the children were learning the language quicker than their parents. As one of the school’s founders says in the film, “This is not just about our school, it’s about the history of this country.” It drastically changed the power dynamic of the families, and the kids would take on many parental responsibilities, which seemed troublesome as they were losing their childhood much quicker than one should. Imagine a teacher asking the child to read to their father. It’s the ultimate role-reversal. More than anything though, we saw that with an issue like immigration that is so incredibly complex and with so many different aspects to the conversation, there is no easy solution or broad sweeping resolution that will solve it. This is an issue that will take time to figure out and that we all have to be a part of. Education is vital with something like this. In order for people to truly deliberate something and make informed decisions about what they want to do, they have to know what they’re talking about. In this case, they’re talking about people. It comes down to all of us getting to know one another. Once you’ve personally gotten to know someone who belongs to a particular group, you can no longer just easily dismiss the group as one thing – it is now a collection of individuals who are all different.
Ultimately, it’s going to come down to our children. Many of the loudest voices in the immigration debate come from people who are set in their ways and will never be persuaded to try and think about it from the perspective of another human being. It’s an issue of stagnancy. As cultures and ideas clash, it is vital to educate people (especially children) about all of the people in their community. From learning about people who are different from you, by spending time with them or sharing positive experiences with them, you learn not only about someone else, but you learn something about yourself. Unless we realize that we all want the same things, we’ll never find a true sustainable solution.
Atlas DIY: What can people do to see or support your film?
Bill and Adam: Well, funny you should ask. In order for people to see the film, we need as many people to support it as possible. This film is as independent as indie films go. We’ve worked on this for three years now, getting money from wherever and whomever we could, while also spending much of our own. Now that we are officially broke, we have to turn elsewhere. We are in the midst of raising the money to pay for all of the film’s finishing costs on a really cool site called Kickstarter that allows for projects like ours to be supported by anyone in the world. You can visit our Kickstarter page here:
We think our film is one that should be seen by as many people as possible, and the only way to help make that happen is from the kindness and generosity of others. Which, in light of all we’ve talked about here, seems to be fitting,
Special thanks to Bill and Adam for sharing their story and those of the amazing community in their film!