[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in July 2006. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

in the classroom

Documenting Neighbors

Kurdish neighbors

In light of recent unwarranted investigations and arrests of Harrisonburg refugees that have confused and troubled immigrants and U.S.-born citizens alike, Jerry Holsopple’s documentary production class at EMU chose to spend the spring semester recording the stories of their Kurdish neighbors. They named the documentary, “Second Home.”

On April 26, hundreds of community members packed Court Square Theater to hear those stories retold by the Kurdish people themselves. Student editors wove together narratives and footage without using voiceovers.

Director Frank Ameka, who also served as one of the editors, endured “a lot of meetings and sleepless nights” coordinating the project. Though it was “daunting,” he described the cutting and piecing process as an art form where “your canvas is the screen and your medium is video.”

Teams of students spent many long hours interviewing and photographing, capturing picnics, festivals and even worship times on video.

'The most hospitable and generous people'

Melanie Pritchard, one of the videographers, said she got to interview “some of the most hospitable and generous people I have ever met.” Every guest in a Kurdish home is at least served tea. In fact, “Every time I met with [the families] they offered me food until I could eat no longer,” said photographer Julian Wiebe-Johnson.

Kurdish family
Students built trust with the families, who then shared their experiences: accounts of their lives in war-torn Kurdistan as well as stories of the FBI raids in Harrisonburg that have deeply shaken their trust in the same government that granted them refuge just a couple years before the 9–11 terrorist attacks.

But “the way they continue to find hope through their struggles humbled me,” said Pritchard. Holsopple said he hopes the documentary will give the Harrisonburg community a sense that the Islamic values of peace, family and living in community are ones many non-Muslims share.

A 'deep, complex' community

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The Kurdish community’s story is “so deep, complex, and fascinating” that “we’ll never be able to do [it] full justice,” said Pritchard. “I didn’t fully realize just how hard it would be to tell a people’s story with sensitivity and respect and also make it comprehensible and captivating for a diverse audience.”

Perhaps the audiences at the two packed-out showings would be able to say whether the students accomplished that goal. “It was amazing to have to turn people away” and tell them to come back for the second show, said Wiebe-Johnson.

“This (project) is something (the students) will hold up with pride more than that paper they wrote late at night for some class,” said Holsopple.

The Harrisonburg Kurdish community plans to use “Second Home” as a tool to continue telling their story to audiences near and far. Ameka appreciates the film’s hopeful outlook. “This is the space that should start dialogue,” he said. “I feel that the final work is a portrait of what this community really wants.”

Andrea J. Kniss (C 06)