Each month this year, we’re highlighting organizations providing job preparation and training, and raising awareness about the refugee community we serve. More than just words, we are committing to financially support the work of the partner we select each month and want you to join us! In April, every dollar given to the Amplio Foundation will be matched and given to support CLARKSTON, a documentary premiering in 2020.
Erin Bernhardt is a former CNN writer and producer using her skills in journalism and filmmaking to create movies that make a difference. Her passion for raising awareness about important issues has taken her everywhere from the TEDx stage, to the Peace Corps of Madagascar, and now to the most diverse square mile in America—Clarkston, Georgia.
Erin, who deems the unique town as her “favorite place on earth” shares that her love for Clarkston began when she was volunteering there over ten years ago.
“It’s a healing place for me,” she shares, adding that her second date with her husband was in Clarkston.
The quaint town is an anomaly in modern America; it’s population peaceful, despite coming from different countries, religions and backgrounds. It is a town of refugees, lives upheaved, looking to re-build.
But Erin and her husband weren’t the only ones fascinated by the tiny southern town. Industry friends, Joseph and Alicia East, also known for their humanitarian journalism, felt drawn to Clarkston. Vexed by current events and the ongoing narrative of hate and racism in our country, the four began asking themselves if and how they could leverage their skills to make an impact. The idea: share the stories of refugees living in Clarkston to change that narrative.
The idea for a documentary became concrete in Summer 2017, and together—Erin, Joseph and Alicia joined with former architect Din Blankenship to begin the initial stages of production.
The documentary, working title “CLARKSTON,” is set to film all of 2018. With countless inspiring and compelling stories to explore, the team is following individuals such as Doctors Heval Kelli and Kajin Abdullah, Mama Amina Osman, Police Chief Hudson, and Mayor Ted Terry; and establishments ranging from the Community Health Center to locals’ favorite Refuge Coffee Company.
The film’s website describes, “Through intimate and interwoven character-driven stories, CLARKSTON explores the inner-workings of this unique place and exposes the innumerable obstacles and unyielding hope its residents face. It is an astounding and inspirational story of acceptance, goodwill, enterprise, collaboration, optimism… and what it truly means to be an American.”
The goal of the film is not to victimize refugees or incur pity, but to bring dignity to these strong survivors, invoke empathy, and renew a sense of patriotism—the idea that our nation was founded as place of acceptance and freedom for all mankind.
“Our goals are the same,” shares co-producer, Din Blankenship, “We want to see change. The way we impact change in our country and in policy is to change hearts; we tell stories that help people identify and empathize.”
“The film won’t be political,” Erin adds, “but we hope to bring human rights to the forefront. [We want to] change the national narrative of hate to one of open mindedness.”
Director and cinematographer, Joseph East, chimes in, “There is something powerful about making people realize that refugees are just like anybody else. If we can show someone on the screen—a grandmother or kid—it melts away whatever walls can be there. It’s hard to hate somebody whose story you know.”
The team, who set out to impact others, is discovering that the process works both ways. Their eyes have been opened, even more, to the incredible strength and resilience of refugees and the need to speak out for their human rights.
“I’ve seen how much they appreciate the simplest things… having certain freedoms that have been compromised or don’t exist in the places they have come from. It’s put a mirror up to how much I can really take for granted,” explains Joseph.
The film is anticipated to release in January 2020. The months and days between now and then will be filled with connections and coffee, filming and editing, interviews and promotion—and everything in between.
To help, the small but mighty team has added to their crew. After connecting with Amplio, they hired a local refugee, Abdul Mohamad, as a consultant and production assistant, a decision they are all very happy about.
Abdul shares, “My favorite part of working on this film is getting to know so many people [while] getting to work with experienced filmmakers, and getting to talk with people who have interest in this matter and want to stand up and help refugees. I didn’t realize there were so many white people who want to protect this community.”
The team says they plan to train and hire more Clarkston residents, including new Americans and native-born Americans alike. The apprenticeship will give these individuals the incredible opportunity to acquire skills that will help them be hired by more production crews, in the future.
“The sky is the limit!” says Erin, excited about the opportunity to launch others into the growing field. “Georgia is home to more productions than Hollywood now!” she adds.
The budget for this critical project is $700,000, which the team plans to raise via grants, donations, and investments. Their goal is not simply to raise funds, but raise awareness to get more individuals involved and invested in the film.
“The dream is that anyone who cares about refugee rights, and human rights, and positive stories… would give at least $5,” Erin explains. “Then they have ownership in it. They’ll go see the film, and share about it.”
Amplio is grateful for the opportunity to support creative initiatives to advocate for the refugee workforce.
“We are excited about the film,” says Chris Chancey, CEO of Amplio, “Because we recognize a greater understanding of the refugee community to a mass audience will yield a greater number of refugees given job opportunities in our country.
As our April partner, any contribution given to the Amplio Foundation will be matched, dollar for dollar by Amplio, up to $1,000.
To make a charitable donation, visit the Amplio Foundation page. Scroll down and click the Donate Now button. Fill in the amount and payment information, as well as whether you would like for it to be a one-time gift or recurring donation. Click the Give button and you’re done!
As always, thank you for partnering with us to support the refugee workforce.