"Feelings Don’t have Borders. Everyone’s sorrow, pain, and joy is the same and we have to look at each other from this base."
Apo W. Bazidi’s How Far is Home takes us inside the Thomas Jefferson school for immigrants in Ohio. Focusing on two students, siblings Ahmed and Ruba, the documentary gives us an insight into the refugee experience against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban – and a growing, worldwide storm of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. I had the chance to interview director Bazidi and find out more about his compassionate approach to this complex issue.
Firstly, I want to say thanks so much for taking the time to chat with FilmBusters! Could you talk a bit about how your career so far has shaped or influenced How Far is Home? My career started with producing/directing narrative films and commercials. I’ve been working in the industry over 10 years. The shift in my career took place in 2014 when I decided to do more meaningful work; documentaries. I went to Turkish-Syrian border to volunteer in the refugee camps and document the lives of refugees. I spent over 18 months in the region and followed the plight and the resilience of people of Kobane through the eyes of a 8 year girl named Evlin. I completed my first feature documentary, Resistance is Life in 2017 which gave me the experience and confidence of story telling on the ground and committing to make a change in the society. After a successful circle of festivals and distribution I moved on to making How Far is Home which had the smiler circumstances of volunteering and documenting refugee children but this time in a more safe and secure place at an all immigrant school in Cleveland, Ohio. So aside my previous experiences, being sincere and not allowing camera to be a burden between me and my subjects has enable me to tell stories more organically. And this has shaped making of How Far is Home. In terms of the inspiration behind the documentary, was it directly Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban, or the wider political conversation on refugees and immigration? Trump’s 2017 travel ban definitely was a fuel to show the opposite side of story but it wasn’t the inspiration behind making this film. It was actually the school and children that inspired me tell this story. When I was introduced to Thomas Jefferson Newcomers academy I saw how beautiful all these children are getting along under one umbrella to pursue their dreams. I wanted to show how similar these children are to the ones in the US and how much they have to offer to rest of the world. As we were documenting their experience in the school the political climate was changing simultaneously and it affected some of the students in the school. The travel ban and anti-immigration policies have merged into our story naturally but it wasn’t the core of our story.
How Far is Home is very focused on personal experience over the broader political situation. Was this always the case or did this come about in the process of making the documentary? Personal experience of Ahmed and Ruba was the core of our story to engage our audience with a human story rather than political. And in the process of making the documentary the political situation had became inevitable truth that had to be part of the story because it was effecting our subjects lives directly. They became the example and victim of the anti-immigrant laws.
What was the research process like? It was easy, In terms of finding the numbers of refugees and their settlement in the US and in Ohio specifically. We worked with local refugee settlement offices to gather information and facts. But In terms of story, the research process was bit challenging because we didn’t have enough resources to show our subjects past life because they fled Syria over a night. However we managed to dig into Ahmed’s father flip phone to recover some pictures to include in our story. What was your experience of shooting the documentary at Thomas Jefferson school? Did you have a lot of interaction with students and teachers? It was a great experience, the set was full of joy and hope. We definitely had interruptions with both children from all over the world and faculty members. Marisol Burgos, the head principal of the school, was very welcoming and she has opened the doors of her school, she called it her home. We had a tiny production crew, and we didn’t want to interfere with the students’ education. I also volunteered in some classes to teach high school students how to vlog and tell their stories. So overall the experience on the set was very inspiring.
What do you hope viewers of your documentary take away with them? I think our film conveys its message very thoroughly but to put in personal words I would like our audience to see how similar these newcomers are to us, how much they can offer to our society and how much we can learn from them. Is there anything else you’d like to add? As I said it before, Feelings Don’t have Borders. Everyone’s sorrow, pain, and joy is the same and we have to look at each other from this base. If we achieve this then this world will be more peaceful.
You can see my review of 'How Far is Home' right here: