Written by Benjamin Baldwin
Producer Renee Silverman was first surprised when her colleague left their mutual career in television to join International Rescue Committee (IRC), but soon realized how fulfilled she was and loved hearing about her experiences there.Â IRC is a Nongovernmental organization that responds to the worldâ€™s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. It offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster.Â Particularly, Silverman was interested in IRCâ€™s summer academy, which acclimates immigrant children into their new New York City environment in six weeks.
Being a second-generation American, Silverman related to many of the families that the IRC helped.Â Her grandparents fled Eastern Europe leading up to WWII, and while the current refugees came from different regions, she felt a connection to their struggle. â€śFor me, the difference in cultures and regions between my own familyâ€™s history and that of [the students] are superficial details,â€ť says Silverman.Â â€śI canâ€™t help but think that Grandma Rose might have much in common â€“ both in spirit and in endurance â€“ with many of the remarkable students.â€ť
After hearing the incredible stories of what these child refugees had to endure, Silvermanâ€™s journalistic instincts kicked in when she realized that most Americans werenâ€™t conscious of the personal struggles behind a geo-political conflict.Â â€śThese kidâ€™s stories put a face on global problems of persecution and displacement that affects over 70 million people,â€ť says Silverman.
Renee Silverman teamed up with her friend and award-winning filmmaker, Peter Miller, to propose a documentary chronicling the IRCâ€™s summer academy and received unrestricted access to the school and its diverse students.
While shooting, Silverman and her team were blown away by the young participantsâ€™ resiliency and drive. Â They met students like George Tarr, a young Liberian refugee who lost his mother at twelve and both his father and grandfather during Liberiaâ€™s civil war. Currently living in a failed resettlement project with his grandmother in Staten Island, George travels 5 hours daily to attend the IRC program where he excels as a student leader and teacher.Â At 17, the pressures on him are huge as he struggles to care for his grandmother with failing health and his young brother who has been become influenced by the neighborhoodâ€™s harsh street gangs.Â Never complaining, he feels fortunate to have IRC and takes full advantage of opportunities that come his way while never neglecting his inherited responsibilities.
Like George, the strength and audacity of Helen, a 14-year old Burmese refugee, is immeasurable.Â Â Escaping conflict in her native Thailand, Helenâ€™s family applied for refugee status for the promise of moving to the US, which forced them to live in a refugee camp without electricity and running water for 2-years. Since Helen wasnâ€™t given access to an education while in the camp, she marched into the UN administratorâ€™s office on the first day and demanded a job. She described on film how she landed one as a translator and remembered working late into the night translating thousands of listed names from English to Thai as part of the campâ€™s census count.
With stories more harrowing than the next, Renee and her team continued to film and compile over 100 hours of raw footage in 6 weeks.Â Silverman became adamant about providing a platform for these young refugeesâ€™ to have their stories heard.Â She used her contacts and convinced her talented friend, Rachel Reichman, to edit the footage to a 7-minute trailer when she wasnâ€™t editing Martin Scorceseâ€™s new film: Letter to Eli Kazan. The trailer allowed her to secure enough funding to hire editor Aaron Vega who helped them craft a rough cut of the documentary they titled: Refugee Kids: One Small School Takes on The World.
Now with the rough cut complete, Silverman has taken her mission of finalizing the film to the web.Â â€śSince it can be difficult to raise funding for a film, Iâ€™m hoping that we can raise $30,000 on Kickstarter to finalize the film, which I think is award-worthy,â€ť she says.
Silverman argues that finalizing the documentary is so important because the film puts a human face on a number of international crises that are happening right now, including the war in Iraq, the unrest in Egypt, the on-going Tibetan struggles, the turmoil in West Africa and the under-reported story of the Bhutanese refugees.
â€śThese children have faced so many atrocities in their lifetimeâ€¦ so much more than your average American kid,â€ť says Silverman. â€śYet, they come without regret or anger.â€ť
Renee hopes that viewers discover a shared humanity with these kids through the film who must adapt to a strange new life and culture after being through so much. â€śWeâ€™d like to add the human element to the immigration debate,â€ť argues Silverman. â€śWeâ€™d love for the Americans embracing anti-immigration policies to see this film and learn how many refugees, like George and Helen, have so much to offer.â€ť
You can learn more about Refugee Kids: One Small School Takes on The World by visiting their Kickstarter page and clicking this link.
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