Short films on a mission: a radical approach to immigration

Welcoming America
Nashville was labeled a capital of American nativism. Then it embraced its immigrants and everything changed.

The United States is built on the values of diversity and inclusiveness, yet in today’s climate we see that many communities in the country are experiencing fear of immigration and people seeking refuge. What would happen to cities if they were to offer a big welcome to people in search of a better future for themselves and their families?

This summer, our team at Micro-Documentaries had the opportunity to witness the extraordinary results of what happens when a city opens its doors warmly to immigrants. We produced a short film for Emerson Collective to capture the essence of the Welcoming Movement in its birthplace of Nashville, Tennessee.

Ten years ago, The Nation dubbed Nashville “the white-hot nexus of the new American nativism.” Here, immigrant children were being called names, mosques were desecrated and protesters rallied with signs saying “Immigrants go home.” And then, through one man’s dedicated effort, Nashville opened its heart.  

Within a few years, Arabic, Kurdish and Vietnamese became part of the local dialect. Tourists and locals started lining up at restaurants serving Ethiopian coffee, Kurdish kebabs and Vietnamese pho.

When Nashville welcomed outsiders, it gained. With acceptance came prosperity. Immigrants, who are known to be twice as likely to start a small business than US born citizens, infused energy into the local schools, businesses and culture. In 2012, Nashville led the country in job growth.

Here are 3 things we did while telling this story on film that you can apply to your own video storytelling on a mission:

  1. Because we wanted to share the principles of the movement as well as its impact – we decided to use a longer format (3-4 mins), to capture two complementary stories. In this case, we mashed-up the founder story with that of an immigrant voice.  
  2. Since the city was essentially a character in our story, we made sure that captured the vivacity and life of this extraordinary place. Filmmaking is an extraordinary medium to capture the sights and sounds of a city, but often in mission driven filmmaking, the location is pushed to the background.  
  3. The film is about the Welcoming Movement, and not about Welcoming America – the organization. We consciously made the decision to keep the organization being more a context for the story rather than the star. This automatically makes the film more editorial and educational and therefore more shareable  

More about the organization

Welcoming America, a nonprofit born in Nashville, leads a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong. They believe that all people, including immigrants, should be valued contributors and are vital to the success of both our communities and our shared future. Our communities are changing. Migration and rapid demographic shifts can spark tension and create new challenges, both for newcomers and long-time residents. In a rapidly globalizing world, cities and towns that thrive will be those that create an environment that addresses this fear and divisiveness at its root, and go beyond tolerance to ensure that people of all backgrounds can fully participate and contribute to broader economic and social vitality.Thanks to Welcoming America, hundreds of communities across the nation are participating in the Welcoming Movement – helping us all grow and prosper together.   

 

More about the characters

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Mohammed Shukri Hassan.  Hassan is a the very face of American immigration.  Civil war forced his family out of their native country Somalia, when he was just 3, and they ended up in neighboring Kenya with thousands of other refugees.  The family registered for an immigration lottery, and that’s how Hassan’s mother made it to the U.S. Her children came five years later.  Today Hassan is one of the city’s top advocates for immigrants. He sits on several boards that aid new Americans in Nashville, and he is also a small business owner, running an incubation hub to help new Americans become successful entrepreneurs.  

 

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David Lubell.  In the early 2000s, as a resident of Nashville, David felt deeply embarrassed to see how his city was succumbing to fear and hate against new immigrants.  He decided to do something about it, and founded the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition which led to him starting Welcoming America.  As the  founder and Executive Director of Welcoming America, David is taking the Welcoming movement to hundreds of communities across the country.  His award winning concept has been celebrated nationally and internationally.

 

 




Preeti Deb

Micro-Documentaries’ Creative Producer, Preeti Deb, has produced and directed films that address a range of social issues in Indian society, from the education system to arranged marriages. When she’s not working or being a mama, she loves watching obscure films or reading old mystery novels on the beach.




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