Local Film Makers Explore the Lives of Refugees in Calgary

Asha and Roda Siad are Somali-Canadian documentary filmmakers based in Calgary. Their interests are in human rights issues, migration and using media as a tool for advocacy. Their last project, Living at the Border received an Amnesty International Canada Media Award for online journalism.

The sisters will be screening their National Film Board documentary 19 Days on June 20 2016 which also marks the UN World Refugee Day. The documentary explores the first 19 days of five refugee families from Syria, Burundi, and Sudan as they stay at the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre in Calgary.

One of the gifted filmmakers, Roda, took the time to answer questions we had regarding the inspiration for the film and the message they hoped they film would convey.

First off, congratulations on the film! What was the inspiration behind the creation of 19 Days?

The Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre is unique in that it was designed in the form of a house to help refugees transition to Canadian society.  Since 1994, it’s been the starting point for all government-sponsored refugees who arrive to Calgary. However, not many people know the Centre is there or what it does. We felt a film about this reception house would give audiences an inside look at the world of resettlement and shed light on the complex realities faced by refugee families.

Covering the refugee crisis is incredibly difficult right now. What was the greatest obstacle you faced in creating 19 Days?

Language barriers proved to be the main obstacle for us.  We spent a lot of time (off camera) getting to know the families and establishing relationships. Because there were up to 10 languages being spoken at the same time, we often relied on the help of interpreters and Google translate!

What was the most memorable experience you had in filming 19 Days?

There were many memorable points during our filming days. The one that stands out to us is of Mustafa, a young father from Darfur. He had a ripped notebook with phone numbers from family he had lost connection with after he arrived to a refugee camp in Ethiopia.  As Mustafa made repeated attempts to call his family, we learned that he had not spoken to them in four years.  The moment he connected and heard the voice of his sister on the other line is something we won’t forget. Mustafa’s story really illustrates the lives refugees leave behind.

Besides 19 Days being your project, how have you been personally impacted by the film?
Our family came to Canada as refugees from Somalia in the early 90’s. There were many points during the filming process that reminded us of our own immigration story. In many ways, the film provided a reflection of the integration struggles our parents experienced upon coming to a new country.

What message do you hope 19 Days will give audiences here in Calgary?

Presently, countries around the world (including Canada) are having discussions around refugees and resettlement. As the number of displaced people worldwide increases, it’s important for us to think about how we receive refugees and what that integration process looks like.  Once we are aware of this process, we can work towards creating inclusive and supportive environments for vulnerable populations. Our hope is that 19 Days will contribute to this discussion.

The documentary 19 Days will screen Monday June 20th at 7pm in the John Dutton Theatre at Calgary Central Public Library (616 Macleod Trail SE, Calgary, AB T2G 2M2).
The film will also stream for free on the National Film Board website starting Monday (www.nfb.ca).

Nilou Davoudi About Nilou Davoudi
I am passionate about the human experience, connecting with others, community and global outreach. I am a scientist by trade, a dancer by nature and a traveler at heart. I am interested in spirituality and the science of consciousness, traveling, learning new languages, meeting new people, having inspiring conversations, Oprah and of course the fine things in life namely espressos, chocolate, wine, cheese and really cute shoes!

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