As we push on towards completing The Last Refuge, it can sometimes feel as if we’re working in a vacuum. Adam or Zach will cut a scene, we’ll pass it around and comment—this works, that doesn’t—but it’s mostly a feedback loop within the contained system of the “team.” That’s one reason why our experience last weekend was so interesting, and fun. Loch, Adam and I were invited to speak at the Cazenovia Forum, a public affairs lecture series designed to foster thoughtful discussion of important national issues. The list of past speakers is pretty impressive, including two Pulitzer Prize winners, so we had to bring our A game. More importantly, we brought Shelly Callahan.
We showed our extended trailer and several individual scenes, then went to Q&A. While some in the audience asked about the doc - why are you making this film, when will it be done? - many if not most questions were about the issues raised in the film and about the resettlement process in general. We were sure glad we had an expert like Shelly to answer with first-hand experience questions about how the resettlement program is structured, how much it costs, how changes in federal policy are rippling through the system and affecting what they do. There were more than one hundred people there and I think every one of them left with new understanding and respect for what Shelly and her staff do at the Center.
But we also got feedback on the film from outside the loop, mostly at the post-event reception. I heard several very specific comments about things we should consider— “data visualization,” “more construction images,” "crime statistics!”. It was as important for us to hear what others think as it was for us to hone our message talking to the public.
To me, the high point of the night came when Loch made an impassioned statement about Americans being a welcoming people and acceptance of others as a core American value. He pretty much brought the house down. That clearly came from the heart. It struck a chord in the audience, and in me. It was a reminder to step outside the process of making this film and remember what the project is all about.