Belmont Groups Screen Films of Refugees With Goal Of Greater Understanding

Photo: After Spring, directed by Ellen Martinez

A coalition of Belmont organizations that are working to help resettle refugees in the Boston area is presenting a series of films on refugees and immigration beginning this week that spotlights issues in the headlines.

“With today’s more than 60 million refugees, we thought that coming together to watch and discuss these significant films would be a way to broaden the community’s understanding of what is happening around the world and what we have been doing to assist,” said Sam James, who is leading a resettlement program at First Church of Belmont Unitarian Universalist.

The Belmont Public Library, Belmont World Film, Beth El Temple Center, and First Church of Belmont presents “A Community Responds: Three Films on the Global Refugee Crisis,” a series of award-winning documentaries:

  • Sonita on Thursday, Feb. 2 and
  • After Spring on Thursday, Feb. 9, both being screened at the West Newton Cinema, 1296 Washington St., Newton, and
  • All of Me on Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Belmont Public Library, 336 Concord Ave.

All screenings begin at 7 p.m. and are followed by discussions.

Proceeds benefit the International Institute of New England, which provides information on resources to refugees and immigrants, and the Refugee & Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) which promotes community education, refugee resettlement, post-resettlement support services, counseling services and socio-economic development in Massachusetts refugee and immigrant communities.

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Sonita tells the story of an 18-year-old Afghan girl living as a refugee in a shelter in Tehran, who dreams of being a famous rapper. In Iran she gets counseling for the traumas she has suffered and guidance in shaping her future. But women aren’t allowed to sing in Iran and her family has a very different future planned for her: as a bride she’s worth $9,000. In an unconventional twist, Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami becomes personally involved in helping Sonita fulfill her dream. The evening also features the short film Refugee Blues by Stephan Bookas, which charts a day in ‘the jungle’, the recently destroyed refugee camp outside Calais in France. Nano Raies, a second-year voice student at the Berklee College of Music and originally from Homs, Syria, will speak after the film. 

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Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart executive produced After Spring, directed by Ellen Martinez, which follows two Syrian refugee families in transition, as well as the aid workers fighting to keep the Jordan-based Zaatari Refugee Camp, the largest camp for Syrian refugees, running. With no end in sight for the conflict or the refugee crisis, everyone must decide if they can rebuild their lives in a place that was never meant to be permanent. It will be screened with the short film People of Nowhere by Lior Sperando, which documents the volunteers working to save Syrian immigrants trying to make it to the EU. Omar Salem, chairman of the Karam Foundation that provides emergency aid to the people of Eastern Aleppo, will lead the post-film discussion.

All of Me by first-time Mexican filmmaker Arturo González Villaseñor chronicles a group of women who stand by the train tracks near the Mexican town of La Patrona. Calling themselves “Las Patronas,” they wait for a freight train full of illegal Latin American immigrants—on a perilous journey in pursuit of the dream of a better life in the USA—to pass by. They throw them water bottles and packages of food they cooked themselves and never miss a single train. Although poor themselves, the women understand the suffering of others. Representatives from the International Institute of New England and the Refugee & Immigrant Assistance Center will speak after the film. 

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Tickets to the screenings at the West Newton Cinema on Feb. 2 and 9 are $11 general admission, $9 students and seniors, and are available in advance online or at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the Belmont Public Library screening on February 16 is free, but seats should be reserved through the site listed above; arrive early as seating is not guaranteed.

Other community partners include Belmont Against Racism, Belmont Religious Council, Human Rights Commission, and Mosesian Center for the Arts. For more information call 617-484-3980.

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