BRATTLEBORO — The Latchis Theatre will be screening a special documentary, Utica: The Last Refuge, May 13 through 19.
“Given that Brattleboro has begun to resettle Afghan refugees, the film offers a chance to see how refugees positively impacted another small town,” the theater said in a news release. “Never before has a film so carefully documented this aspect of resettlement and its contribution to the wider community. The message is clear: If it can happen there, why not here as well?”
Directed by Loch Phillipps of Off Ramp Films, Utica: The Last Refuge follows the Azein family, refugees from Sudan, upon their arrival in the United States in 2017, just as a White House administration hostile to refugees is sworn in.
The film depicts how, over the course of 2 1/2 years, Utica, N.Y.'s venerated refugee resettlement agency will be tasked with helping the Azeins make a difficult transition, while the agency struggles to stay afloat.
The challenges in the Azein family's story of acclimation are softened by Utica itself. A small city in upstate New York rebounding after it lost more than 40 percent of its population - dropping from 100,000 in the 1960s to about 60,000 by 2000 - Utica's recovery is bound with the influx of refugees.
The city is being extolled for its diversity and serves as one of the most successful examples of refugee resettlement in the country.
In the 1970s, refugee resettlement began when the city received a trickle of Amerasians. Refugee resettlement grew in the 1990s with the civil war in Yugoslavia, as many Bosnians came to Utica. Their contribution to the construction industry is evident in all the new stucco facades that dot the city.
Now, with a heavy influx of people from Burma and several African nations, refugees and their children make up nearly 20 percent of Utica's overall population. Without them, Utica's population would be below 50,000, which would disqualify its status as a municipality, and therefore lose all the benefits that the city would receive from the state.
Industry is beginning to return to the area, and the refugee center is placing increasing numbers of refugees with local companies who appreciate this reliable sector of the workforce.
Of the film's genesis, Loch Phillipps says, “What struck Adam Bedient, the director of photography, and me immediately is that the resettlement system is backed up: fewer than 1 percent of 25 million refugees worldwide are being resettled. This is the part of the story that is not being told. If the truth is that refugees improve the communities where they're resettled, we should do better by this vulnerable population.”
“We're happy to do what we can to support the successful resettlement of refugees in our community - and nurture the embrace of resettlement efforts elsewhere,” said Jon Potter, executive director of the Latchis.
Built in 1938, the Latchis Theatre is a memorial to Demetrius Latchis, who settled in Brattleboro after emigrating from a tiny village in Greece in 1901. Now owned by the nonprofit Latchis Arts, the Latchis Memorial Building houses a 30-room boutique hotel, rental spaces and four venues for film and live events, including the grand 750-seat Main Theatre.
Screenings will be held:
• Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m., in the Latchis Main Theatre, followed by a Q & A with the film's director and members of the community working in refugee resettlement.
• Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, at 2 p.m.
• Monday through Thursday, May 16–19, at 7 p.m.
Admission is by suggested donation of $10. Greater donations are welcome in support of the filmmakers and the Latchis. No one will be turned away. For details on screenings of Utica: The Last Refuge and everything else happening at the Latchis, visit latchis.com.