Zin family, Majeed family, Darwish family
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…humanistic without having its head in the clouds.
Immigration is a hot topic for every political party across the spectrum in Australia and abroad. Too often, the people that come to our shores are described as a collective; a faceless mass of people to be marched out for the purpose of gaining some votes to stay in power. In her latest film, New Homeland, Oscar winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA, Shut Up & Sing) attempts to burrow through the sensationalism to offer a more personable portrait of refugees.
After some harrowing footage of Syria and Iraq, Kopple presents her audience with Canada’s sponsorship programme, where people can sponsor other families fleeing these war-torn countries. People like the Zin family from Syria, the Majeeds from Iraq and the Darwishes also from Syria, who have been lucky enough to now find themselves in the relative safety of Canada. We hear about the terrible things they’ve overcome before their arrival, and the charitable work done by the families that sponsor them. For all of the refugee families, this is a chance to start a new life.
Having made us familiar with her subjects, Kopple focuses in on the children and essentially turns New Homeland into a sort of coming of age drama in the best possible way. The boys from each family have been invited to partake in the Pathfinder programme, a summer camp wherein boys can learn all the basics of summer, such as camping, canoeing and dodgeball. The boys can barely contain their excitement as their parents fuss over them as they await their bus to this new adventure. The rest of the film follows them as they partake in what is essentially a great north American tradition.
Most of the boys seem to throw themselves into whatever the camp has to offer and it’s genuinely joyful to hear them talk to their fellow Canadian campers about where they’re from without an ounce of trepidation or prejudice. However, Kopple, through the two Majeed brothers, also manages to capture the effect which trauma can have on young minds. The youngest Majeed, Omer plays up to the camera, spouting Americanisms and trying to be the cool guy. He’s also quick to anger and seeks provocation in everything he does. The eldest, Hameed, seems better adjusted but requires constant encouragement to stay at the camp.
What resonates is how the camp counsellors never waiver in their support of the boys, even when push comes to shove and one of them has to be removed, it is done with a heavy heart. Perhaps one of the standout moments is a discussion between a camp counsellor and three other campers who are fearful of Omer. Without patronisation or fear mongering, the opportunity is taken to explain that whilst his behaviour is not to be tolerated, it comes from a place no one in the conversation could comprehend. The maturity of the boys during this time is particularly effective and highlights that young minds are capable of complicated discussions. It also underlines the fact that there’s likely a glimmer of hope in this next generation of people who are more willing to embrace different cultures and concepts.
Shot simply but bursting with warmth for its subjects – both refugee and not – New Homeland is one of those pieces of cinema that manages to be humanistic without having its head in the clouds. It doesn’t seek to offer up answers to ending conflict abroad, nor does it tackle current immigration legislation in certain countries. What it does do is show that these statistics thrown up during political broadcasts are people and deserve to be treated as such.