Local Documentary Captures Lives of Refugees in North Carolina

January 25, 2019

The short film, screened at Duke, follows a family that flees threats of violence in Colombia and settles in Durham.

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The film team interviews the Colombian refugee family featured in “A Chance to Live” in the family’s Durham home. Photo courtesy of Kellen Smith

-By Amanda Solliday

About 40 percent of Grace Beeler’s students are refugees, so she hears some forceful stories. These stories that she heard through her work as an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor led her to create a documentary about displaced people who have settled in the area.

“There’s really quite a bit of overlap between an ESL class and documentary filmmaking,” Beeler says. “Both work best when you can create situations where people want to talk. You need to ask the right questions.”

Her first short feature film, “A Chance to Live,” is less than 11 minutes in length, but covers a family’s journey as they face threats from a Colombia paramilitary group, decide to leave their home for Ecuador and eventually seek asylum in the United States.

The short film screened on January 16 at a Refugee Narratives Working Group meeting on campus. The group is part of the Representing Migration Humanities Lab, funded by a Mellon Grant and co-directed by five faculty members in the English Department. The lab’s mission is to investigate modern stories of migration.

Much of the film’s footage shows the family’s everyday activities in Durham, yet Beeler had to take precautions to protect their privacy – the film couldn’t reveal the exact location of the family’s home or church, for example, or disclose their full names.

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A still from the documentary “A Chance to Live.” Photo courtesy of Grace Beeler

Beeler joined up with local talent to make the movie, including co-director and editor Kellen Smith, and musicians who created the score for the film. Beeler and the production team plan to make five more short films about displaced individuals in North Carolina.

“I think that if people understood what the lives of refugees are actually like, they wouldn’t be so afraid,” Beeler says.

Church World Service, a faith-based humanitarian organization with an office in Durham, will also publish the documentaries on their website and share the films with lawmakers.

“There is [sic] a lot of people who need a chance, an opportunity to continue this life,” says the family’s father in the film.

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