In 2016, Montana opened its doors to refugees for the first time this century. The New Neighbors Project explores the relationship between new refugee arrivals and long-time Montanans through a tapestry of self-directed first person stories.
In a forty-minute film we weave together short documentary videos that refugees from Iraq, DRC, Ethiopia and Eritrea shoot and direct as they investigate their new physical and emotional realities. These films are brought to life through participation in our three-month media production workshop, augmented with observational footage shot from our own perspectives, as Montanans.
Follow refugees as they venture into dramatic western terrains (both physical and social) and glimpse the spirit of our changing state. Hunters from Central-Africa teach ones from Middle-America new ways to slaughter a goat and stylists from the Middle East give a fresh look to conservative mountain fashions.
In 2014 we founded the nation’s first homeless filmmaking cooperative - a pilot for this project. These films have screened at Smithsonian museums, schools of public health and even the Department of Justice, generating for their homeless directors new found self-efficacy and income. We believe with our expanded production team and resources we will deliver the refugee-generated perspective our culture is missing and desperately needs.
Renga Media is changing documentary by pioneering innovative storytelling practices that put community and the participant first. Cultural dialogue can only be valid if those at its center are given an opportunity to participate in it. When given time and the proper tools there is no better story teller than a story's keeper.
Where your money goes:
A project like this has many built in expenses including:
- camera gear and equipment for our refugee directors
- hard drives and media storage
- post production costs such as editing, color correction, audio mastering
- transportation and lodging
- stipends for translators
Our team includes:
Bryan Bello founded the nation’s first homeless filmmaking cooperative with eight men and women surviving the streets of Washington D.C. The group's five documentaries have been viewed across the country, screened by the Department of Justice, Smithsonian museums and covered by The Atlantic, PBS NewsHour and the Washington Post. He is a former Center for Media and Social Impact fellow.
Ryan Seitz is director/producer of the award-winning films “Freeload” and “Skips Stones for Fudge.” He has lectured at NYU’s Ethnographic Journalism Department and has had his work showcased at dozens of film festivals worldwide. Ryan has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine, The Boston Globe, and on NPR.
Saif Alsaegh is a filmmaker and a poet in both English and Arabic. He is originally from Baghdad and currently lives and works in the United States. His volume of poetry Iraqi Headaches was published in 2013. He directs short experimental films. His works include Motorola Jockeys (2016), Bukhari Chant (2016) and A Dance (2015). His 2016 film, Alazeef, received special mention at this years Cinéma Du Réel film festival.
Claire Haughey is a professional documentary storyteller specializing in ethnographic photo journalism. She is an instructor at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography as well as a family mentor to Montana's refugee community.
Mia Allen is an award-winning actress, director and producer based out of Portland, Oregon. Her experience includes regional and national commercial broadcast production, independent filmmaking and editorial print modeling. Mia is driven by integral, meaningful stories and intends to promote progress and change on both a personal and global scale at any opportunity available.
Alyson Spery is a student of documentary filmmaking in Montana. Originally trained in public policy, Alyson has a background in human development and experiential education. Her experience as a facilitator drives her to pursue avenues for personal empowerment, including fulfilling her own dream of becoming a documentarian.
Jacob Boelman is an award winning editor whose directorial work has been featured on Montana PBS. In addition to his involvement on New Neighbors, Jacob is currently directing and producing a long-form documentary piece about the residents of a Montana assisted-living home.
Peter McDonough is an adjunct professor in energy at the University of Montana and a Swahili interpreter for resettled Congolese refugees. He learned Swahili while serving as a Peace Corps teacher in Tanzania.
Missoula native Mary McCormick is a young artist currently enrolled at the University of Montana. She is studying Fine Arts and Film, learning the nuances of visual narrative and developing stronger ties to her community and environment.
Keith R. Szudarski is originally from Chicago and has spent most of his life writing and recording music, touring around the country and living for the sake of experience itself. Since moving to Montana, he has been working emergency services and attending school for journalism.
Greta Bates is a field biologist and community organizer advocating for environmental and human rights issues at both the local and international level. She is a family mentor for Soft Landing Missoula.
Gabe Sweeney is a multimedia artist specializing in sound design and experimental graphic art. His work draws inspiration from the landscapes of the Mountain West and Alaska where he has lived all his life. His installations and music have been featured across the west. He currently runs a not-for-profit music studio that facilitates the recording of Montana's refugee and Native American musicians.
Risks and challenges
This ambitious project certainly has it's share of obstacles. However, we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated crew of professional filmmakers, translators and community organizers on our team.
We have also successfully done this work before:
Your donations will help to adequately equip our refugee directors with the necessary tools they need to get their stories told as well as provide the translators compensation for their valuable time.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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