Sachi Dely has a message for the 130,000 Afghan evacuees now resettling around the world:
“Even though in the moment things are bad, it gets better. It always gets better.”
Those are the opening words of Letter from a Refugee, a 2.5-minute film released September 8. The Morrisville independent film company VerveFilms produced the video to promote the third annual Home Is Distant Shores Film Festival, a 10 day-long celebration of refugee and immigrant-focused movies that runs this week.
Dely, a Greensboro-based actor and artist, narrates this over clips of her interacting with greenery around her art studio. She focuses on what she learned as a refugee from the Highlands of South Vietnam, and how it relates to the plight of new Afghan evacuees.
“When you make it to whatever country they send you to, there’s hope now because you’re in a safer place,” Dely says. “But there’s still fear, there’s still adjusting to the culture, still the feeling of starting over.”
The short video debuted amidst the beginning stages of mass global efforts to resettle displaced Afghan citizens, after the U.S. military withdrew its troops from the region. While Aby Rao, the video’s producer and one of the festival’s co-founders, was filming it in mid-August, national news cycles filled most of their time with chaotic images of people grasping at airplanes taking off from the Kabul airport.
Given the timing, Rao felt compelled to ask Dely about her early resettlement experiences.
“I don’t think she’s trying to paint a rosy picture of life in the United States or any country outside their home,” said Rao, who in 2002 immigrated to the U.S. to attend graduate school. “To me it’s about leading your own life and being unique and honest with oneself.”
The Vimeo-released film is a longer version of a similar video that VerveFilms will use as the Home Is Distant Shores’ opening reel. The opener will welcome audience members to the event and introduce themes that are featured in the other 19 films.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the festival’s organizers changed the format from an in-person gathering in Cary to a virtual setting. However, those involved with the event’s production are confident that the celebration will still captivate its audience.
“It’s an amazing lineup that we’ve been able to get,” says Emily Prins, the festival’s programming director. “It feels like every single year there’s one or two that make me say “Oh wow, I can’t believe we got these.” And we have those again this year.”
Rao does not expect the end of the film festival to mark the end of Letters viewership. In a few months, as the Afghan evacuees and new refugees from other countries stabilize in their resettled homes, he wants to share the video with those who can connect to Dely’s story.
“My hope is to take the short film all over the country and abroad where they might be and give them an opportunity to see it and enjoy some of the thoughts Sachi had,” Rao says. “It’s a slow and a long process which I’m really hopeful about.”
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