The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program has helped bring thousands of people to Vermont. Their stories of adjusting to life in their new country are the topic of a new film by Essex filmmaker Mira Niagolova. Welcome To Vermont: Four Stories of Resettled Identity will be shown this Thursday in Burlington.
The idea for the film was sparked while making a documentary in 2002 called “A Parallel World,” about refugees in a camp close to the Kosovo/Macedonia border.
“The ultimate desire of all people who were in this camp, they couldn’t go back to their homes because they were destroyed, is to go to America. I thought, ok, I couldn’t follow these very same people because I don’t know where they were resettled after their life in this particular refugee camp. So I decided to look around and follow the thread with people who were resettled here,” she explained.
The film profiles four different groups of people, and their adjustment to life in Vermont. The challenges they face turn out to be similar, with language being the first and biggest hurdle. Next, they have navigate shifting family roles. Niagolova said one Iraqi family was an example of this shift.
“The oldest sister became the breadwinner, she said in the film, to me, she wasn’t prepared for that. So the roles in the family are shifting. Younger members of the family, they become the breadwinners and they are in a way burdened with that responsibility that they’re not ready to take. From the other side, the parents are not ready to give it up,” Niagolova said.
She said she hopes the film helps people understand each other better, and to help take away the sense of “otherness,” that can be attached to refugee families.
“With so many more refugees coming now in Vermont, I think it’s really important to have a nuanced look and I believe that my film has opened homes of refugees so you can see them, who they are and how they live and how different they are from this otherness, and how similar we all are at the end,” Niagolova said.
Welcome to Vermont: four stories of resettled identity will be presented in conjunction with the Vermont Folklife Center, on Thursday, April 3rd at the Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington. There is a reception at 6:30 pm and screening at 7.