An independent documentary produced and directed by two Durham residents chronicles the journey of three refugee families, from their home country of Bhutan to resettlement here in New Hampshire.
The documentary, The Refugees of Shangri-Law, follows the long journey of three families, from the mountains of Nepal to the neighborhoods of the Granite State.
“There was never a strong emphasis on resettlement here in Nepal. It’s no longer that way.” ... Montage of interviews... “That’s why we want to go to America.”
In 2008 the U.S. State Department agreed to allow 60,000 Bhutanese refugees into the country. Many of them had spent close to 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal after the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan began expelling the ethnic Nepalese people in the 1990s. Now nearly 2000 Bhutanese have resettled in New Hampshire, most in cities like Manchester, Concord and Nashua.
And its their stories that Doria Bramante and Markus Weinfurter set out to tell. They’re the directors and producers of The Refugees of Shangri-La. The two Durham residents hope the film will raise awareness among locals and, as Bramante says, educate a broader audience about the Bhutanese refugee population.
“This beautiful, peaceful kingdom, quote un quote, that’s really actually known for, they’ve coined the concept of gross national happiness as opposed to gross domestic product. And you know, it’s the last place you would imagine there would be refugees and they’ve kicked out one sixth of their population.”
As with any immigrant community, the Bhutanese population in New Hampshire faces significant challenges that come along with resettlement; learning a new language, finding work, and of course, assimilating into an entirely foreign culture. Bramante says one of the most important themes in the film highlights the tension between assimilation and preservation.
“The concern of the elders really, will our culture survive? Will, will we be able to maintain who we are here in America...they got kicked out of the country for who they are, they weren’t allowed to celebrate their culture in their homeland. So they’ve come here to be free and to have this opportunity, but is this something that gets lost in a place like America.”
As the first wave of immigrants who arrived in 2008 approach their fifth year in the U.S., they can begin the process of becoming American citizens. And Markus sees the documentary as something of an unofficial introduction.
“If that person maybe sees the documentary and the next time he meets these people on the street, he can then with a whole different perspective, see this whole incredible story. And maybe he can respond with openness and a smile and welcoming gesture. That would be a very nice effect...yea.”
The Refugees of Shangri-La premieres Monday evening at Red River Theatre in Concord.