Documentary Films | 2018 | 91 minutes
Stranger Says: As American missiles fell near Damascus in mid-April, you may have seen a number begin to circulate in your social-media feeds: 11. That’s the total number of Syrian refugees the United States has accepted so far in 2018, a minuscule amount compared to the same period two years ago. Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies are a prominent undercurrent in This Is Home, a documentary following several Syrian refugees settling in Baltimore. But the film’s central conflict is even more systemic. It brings viewers along for the profoundly disorienting experiences—both big and small—that come with fleeing to a new country: struggling with the language, watching destruction in your home country on the evening news, realizing you’re on the wrong bus. It engenders both empathy for its subjects and anger at the system that gives them a brutally short eight months to become self-sufficient. And it quietly reveals how quick white Americans are to play the savior and how their good intentions can morph into condescension. This Is Home is a powerful story that turns away from familiar footage of migrants fleeing violence and toward the loneliness of what happens next.
SIFF Says:Five million Syrians have now left their war-torn country in search of safety. Of that number, 21,000 have been accepted into the United States, with 372 finding themselves in Baltimore. For the refugees profiled in Alexandra Shiva’s heartwarming documentary, the clock is ticking. From the moment they arrive in Baltimore, these four families have eight months of support from the International Rescue Committee—in the form of language lessons, financial assistance, and employment training—before they have to be self-sufficient. The film follows their progress from as they navigate experiences ranging from the mundane (grocery shopping) to the disturbing (children engaging in play therapy to treat their PTSD). In the midst of these families’ initial integration into American society—and the middle of the film—Donald Trump’s initial immigration ban is announced, prompting one IRC staffer to observe, “We want to be the greatest country in the world, but we don’t treat people like we’re the greatest country in the world.” In this context, Shiva’s documentary is a necessary corrective, introducing us to the real people whose stories often get lost in the political rhetoric.
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