15 Minutes on Leaving Everything Behind

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Lama Alsafi, standing in for Kasia Souchen as host of this podcast.

Every minute 20 people around the world leave everything they have behind to escape war, persecution or terror. Today there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people and 25.4 million refugees worldwide. World Refugee Day is June 20th and to help us mark this day where we honour the strength and courage of refugees, we are speaking with Debra Kellner, director of the documentary film Inside My Heart. Described as a testament to courage in the face of adversity by Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The film chronicles the lives of three families who are forced to flee Syria and Afghanistan at the peak of the refugee and migrant crisis in 2015. Debra, thank you so much for joining us. We’re so excited to chat with you today. Can you tell us what inspired you to make the film Inside my heart?

Debra Kellner: 01:33 I was called down by a good friend to meet him in Greece in the fall of 2015. And I, while we were there, two little girls who had literally just gotten off of a boat, uh, like, you know, so many thousands of refugees. And I met two little girls, uh, twin girls from Afghanistan. They were staying in a refugee camp called the Moria camp, which was pretty horrific condition. They were seven years old, and I asked their parents if I could do a little interview with them and I sat down with my crew in the middle of this field, which had been, you know, which previously had beautiful olive trees and everything had been sort of decimated, down to the ground and these two little girls sat there. They gave just an incredibly articulate depiction of what they had gone through it in order to get to Europe. And at the time, you know, there was a certain amount of chaos going through throughout Europe because of the attacks that had just happened days before in Paris. And I just listened to these two little girls couldn’t believe how resolute and how incredibly brave and courageous they were.

In the morning I woke up and I thought, I have to go back and see those two little girls again. I have to do more than just an interview. I didn’t know then but they were my inspiration for the film, certainly growing in that time. I returned and then the family did an interview and I realized everything that they’d gone through and I just thought to myself, if these two speak with such wisdom and, um, insight about humanity, then certainly I could play a part. So we made a pact before we left. When you make it to wherever it is you’re going write to me. And then if we, if, if I can I’ll come see you. And uh, so really the inspiration really grew and say that the genesis of the film really starts in those early meetings, definitely with, you know, their bravery. So, you know, the, they, they were, I would say, pretty much the pure source of inspiration. And then of course along the way you know, many other people, we met a lot of other people and there was a lot of other moments that were inspiring. But those two little girls really, really just, they were kind of like a wake-up call.

Lama Alsafi: 04:03 Debra, what strikes me about the film Inside My Heart is the intimate access that it has uh into the lives of refugee families. Why do you think you are allowed to get so close?

Debra Kellner: 04:13 There’s a couple of reasons. I think that one of them is that for many years of photojournalists, and of course one of the important rules that most photojournalists would agree with is that there are three rules. and the first one is to get close the second one is to get closer. And then the third rule is to get even closer. So I think that, you know, as a filmmaker that’s sort of, I like to be close to people and I like people to feel like there’s this confidential uh feeling, um, in between the subject and who’s actually watching. The other reason I feel like there was a proximity is I think that just as much as we can in our regular day-to-day life, you know, ordinary people, we can just, we can just meet people who we have a special connection with. And one of the things that kind of shocked me at the time, we could only really make out that there was this mass of people arriving, well what if we could, what if we could just tell simple stories about these people? What if we, that we could just take a handful of people and let them speak.

So I feel also that, you know, the investment of time really was a big part of allowing, you know, my crew to get close to the people. And honestly, you know, when people have been through so much grief, imagine if you had to leave your home behind and if you lost almost everybody in your family, imagine if you lost your job, your everything, your whole livelihood, want someone to talk to and someone maybe even to confide in. And I sort of, I often felt like as a filmmaker that I was, you know, a way for them to, and to share something. Caring didn’t just stop because we stopped filming it when it was ongoing and you know, so I think that when you, when you’re doing something real like this, you know, you, there’s no way out. You’ve got to have to be authentic. And I think that, you know, if you can achieve making people feel like you genuinely care, which I did then, then they open up. It’s a human way to connect with people.

Lama Alsafi: 06:33 Debra, can you speak to some of the challenges that you saw facing the refugee families who are covering great distances to find safety? Oftentimes with young children, I think people underestimate. And because as you know, the 68.5 million refugees in the world today, what suffering these people have gone through to get someone to leave their home and to know that they’ll never go back is such a monumental, and to have to do it in situation of duress, we have to consider that everybody’s story’s similar. And I think getting that they’re going to go, that’s one thing. And then the secondary thing is the integration.

You know, a lot of them get there in this, they’re running on adrenaline from the time that they’ve left their homes until they reach and then they reach and then they, you know, and that’s often when they, when their find themselves depressed and real, you know, just the, the, the mental health, you know, and uh, you know, being able to start your life over. I think that’s one of the hardest things. Imagine if you you know, come from one day to the next your, you just have to leave and start over again. Cause people, they arrive and they have to integrate. They have to find, they have to and to, to find a country to be, I would say that it’s endless. You know what they actually have to go in order to reach safety. So I think one of the greatest things that we could probably do is, is to find ways to build community around these people. Because I think there’s enough, there’s enough stories about immigration. I think this is one of the greatest things that we can do is find a way to be all inclusive with everyone.

Lama Alsafi: 08:17 Do you think people in Canada are paying enough attention to what’s going on around the world with refugees?

Debra Kellner: 08:22 Something that’s kind of interesting having been out in the field a lot and a lot of refugee camps. Usually when I tell people they’re like, oh, what country are you from? And I’ll say I’m from, I’m from Vancouver, I’m from Canada. I would say that from the perspective of the refugees, they think of Canada certainly as one of the top destinations if you can ever get to that country. So I would say that Canadians have done, have had an amazing welcoming policy. Obviously it’s not perfect. There’s always room for adjustment and change, and improvement. But I would say that, you know, compared to a lot of other models throughout the world, um, I think that Canadians have, um, um, not only rose to the occasion and Canada sets, sets uh sets out at front, but I certainly think that the, um, there’s a good precedent been set.

Lama Alsafi: 09:15 What, what message, if you could send a message to policymakers, seeing that you have the experience that you do, then you’ve, you’ve had this access to families and falling over a period of three years, what would you want them to know about refugees?

Debra Kellner: 09:28 I think that if we can look closer, and, listen to these stories and you know, by, by understanding things better, by understanding people’s stories, you know, we can learn to care about people and there should be a little bit more focus on the economical aspects of the arrival of refugees. We know that they bring something enormous to economies. And I think that being able to communicate amongst our communities is probably the best things we can do.

Lama Alsafi: 10:02 Debra, what feeling or message do you hope people will walk away with after seeing your film?

Debra Kellner: 10:07 What I hope people can say, how, how can I help, have, have compassion for, you know, this issue to not let this issue die out by all sorts of other ongoing press, you know, and to know that other people are out there and they need our help and not let the issue die. Really, when you think about the numbers, you know there’s thousands of people everyday, everywhere who are leaving their homes and the issue is not going away anytime soon. So you know, I hope that the film can just raise a level of caring and awareness and true empathy.

Lama Alsafi: 10:44 With World Refugee Day just around the corner. What are some simple things someone listening right now at home can do to make a difference when it comes to refugees?

Debra Kellner: 10:52 There’s a, there’s a couple of ways, you know, I think a lot of people see the refugee crisis and then go, well what can I do? I’m like, I’m only myself. I don’t really have any money. What can I do? Well, you can donate time, find an org a local organization or a church or a community center who’s involved with the refugee crisis and just offer your time, meet these people, reach out to them. Listen, you know, often people, they, they reach where they’re going and, and they really just need time to rebuild and to be able to share what they’ve actually gone through. So, depending on whatever you do, gather your friends well, our cupboards and, and like donate or raise some money or it’s, you know, just a little bit of will can go a long ways.

Lama Alsafi: 11:36 Thank you so much Debra, for taking the time to talk with us today. It was a pleasure speaking with you and we wish you the best of luck with the film.

Debra Kellner: 11:43 My pleasure.

Lama Alsafi: 11:44 Thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date on our newest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.