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Filmmaker Barbara Kopple discusses NEW HOMELAND

November 6, 2019

Every summer since 1914, Camp Pathfinder, a summer camp located on a small island in the wilderness of Canada’s Algonquin Park, invites a community of boys and young men from all across Canada and the United States to spend a few weeks in the backcountry learning how to camp, hike, canoe and fish. 

Two years ago Camp Director Mike Sladden, heartbroken by the tragic images from the growing global refugee crisis but inspired by Canada’s growing intake of asylum seekers, had an idea. What if he could find a way to bring a group of displaced boys from war-torn Syria and Iraq, who recently settled in Canada, to spend the summer at Pathfinder? 

If the camp experience could have such a profound effect on generations of boys already, imagine what it would be like for these refugee boys. ​

Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple, in collaboration with NowThis, NEW HOMELAND offers a unique and intimate perspective into the experience of building a new home after fleeing the traumas of war. 

Barbara recently spoke with us about the film and the process of bringing this story to the screen.

— How did the idea for the film come about?
It was really important to me to be able to do a film about refugees, and I wanted to do it in Canada, because the Canadians were so incredible. One of our producers, Eric Forman, had spent summers of his youth at an all-boys camp in Northern Ontario – Camp Pathfinder, and it was an experience that he really loved. He went back to a high school reunion, and there was a friend there who’d gone to Camp Pathfinder with him and said, “you’ll never guess what, camp director Mike Sladden is accepting, this summer, for the first time: Syrian and Iraqi young people to go to camp for free, and they’re going to sponsor them.” That lit up everything for us. We called Mike and said we’d like to come up to the camp and film their experience. We said, “Listen, we’re really invisible, and we would never do anything to hurt anybody. We’ve been doing this a long time. Have some trust and faith in us.” And he did. 

— What has been the most challenging aspect of making the film?
We had such great material following the boys through their camp experience.  The biggest challenge was to work with our wonderful editor, Rob Kuhns, to cut down all the footage to fit into an hour and a half film.

— What has been the most rewarding?
When the film premiered at DOCNYC in November 2018, the kids we filmed with and their families couldn’t attend because they couldn’t get a visa to leave Canada. A few months later we had a chance to show the film inToronto as the closing-night film of the HotDocs DocSoup film series.  Over 700 people came! The boys and their families loved the film and then came onstage afterwards for a Q&A. It was wonderful to share that experience with them.

— How did you go about choosing which boys’ story to tell?
The five boys featured in the film were the five that attended Camp Pathfinder while we were filming.  The two Iraqi brothers – Omer and Hamid Majeed – had the most dramatic experience, which is why we feature their story a bit more than the other boys.

— What do you hope audiences will take away from watching the film?
I just wanted people to know that these kids and their families are like anybody else. A refugee is someone who left their home not by choice but because they had to for their own survival.  What these kids experience by going to camp – leaving their parents for the first time, missing their homes, making friends, learning new things, being cared about; and what their parents experienced missing their children while they were away, and then being overjoyed when they returned – are universal human experiences we all share.

NEW HOMELAND will screen as part of the Boston International Kids Film Festival at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, MA on Friday, Nov. 15 at 7:00pm.  Filmmaker Eric Forman will be in attendance.

We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture