Updated: Oct 11, 2019
David Byrne wrote a song, "People Like Us":
People like us
Who will answer the telephone
People like us
Growing big as a house
We don’t want freedom
We don’t want justice
We just want someone to love
I’ve always liked the song, and had mostly taken in to mean that love is the most important thing to the most of us. In fact, it struck me as sweet that we might put finding “someone to love” at the top of our list of priorities. But listening to it on the way home from our 49th shoot in Utica sent me back to a conversation I had yesterday with Dzevad, the head of the Resettlement Unit at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. Maybe there is more to the song than I had thought, something a bit more cynical about us—we Americans. We are able to focus on the seeming simplicity of finding someone to love because we have all these things in place: food (“growing big as a house”), freedom (we can criticize our government without fear of being thrown in prison) and justice (whatever that means here these days).
In our talk, Dzevad was doing his level best to explain how things are for people like him: refugees. “You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it,” he told me. Refugees don’t take these things for granted because they lost them for a time, or at least experienced the fragility of having them in the first place. They lost their homes. They left their country and all (or most) of what they knew behind, possibly because they spoke out about the lack of freedom and/or justice they were experiencing. Or maybe because they couldn’t feed their families.
I don’t think these differing points of view mean that I should flagellate myself for my more advantaged way of thinking, but rather I’m thankful to Dzevad for his perspective. I thank him for reminding me that spending all this time around he and other refugees in Utica allows me to see my own life more for what it is. It’s no coincidence that over the past 2.5 years that we’ve been in production, I’ve experienced more gratitude than ever before. I thank my family for everything they’ve given me. I thank my friends for all their support. I take the time to appreciate how fantastic my life is.
On shoot 48, we watched one of my favorite people, Hassan Abbas, formerly of the Resettlement Unit himself, get his US Citizenship. Speaking of things I take for granted! A Palestinian who grew up in Iraq and could never be a citizen there, this is the first time he’s a legal citizen of any country. Dzevad and I watched him take his oath of allegiance and we saw how happy to the core he was. I swear, I’m starting to worry that my heart will explode if it gets opened up any more. I suppose it’s a risk I’ll have to take to finish this film.