Asylum

photo credit: Nesaru Tchäas

Imagine. You are buying your bread at the market, ambling through your neighborhood, watching your shadow on the sidewalk. Then one day, you can’t. You awake and the market’s doors are closed to you. If you speak, you may be attacked or imprisoned. You have been told to leave, but there is no place to go. The sun, which had been your friend, now illuminates you too brightly.

According to the UN, 65 million people living in the world today have been displaced from the land where they they once belonged. You know the causes. They are the stuff of newspaper articles. War, genocide, flood, famine, social collapse, violence, crushing poverty. What the articles don’t, can’t offer is a deep reckoning with individuals who flee but who do not want to be erased.  

Asylum aims to do just that. Asylum will be a 15 minute web film starring immigrants cast from the streets of New York and the Bay Area. The script has been drawn from interviews with people seeking safety in the United States today, and sheds a clear light on the violence they receive upon coming here.

The impact of Asylum is two-fold. For every immigrant family involved, there is the opportunity to meet others in a safe and understanding space, and to act out their traumas, anxieties and fears–a powerful and healing act in itself. The final movie will give the larger American audience a visceral, authentic jolt, leading to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a new immigrant today.

Click here to watch the preview. (The password is: asylum1)

Director Nesaru Tchäas told me that one of the challenges of casting recent immigrants is their wariness about who is reaching out to them. In collaboration with bilingual volunteers,  he and his team hit the streets for hours at a stretch, talking to people living on the margins, explaining that they are making a film about family separation, inviting them to come to orientations and learn more.

Those who show up are given the script in Spanish. Reading it can be a highly charged experience as run-ins with ICE are commonplace. At a recent session, one of the girls auditioning had just lost her father to deportation. Another described a recent ICE raid in their building. Impassioned, emotional conversations are the norm.  As Nesaru puts it, “We audition people who have been in the country for 1-2 years, even a month. They are nervous. They don’t usually have the opportunity to talk; now they do.  A new community emerges at each orientation.“

In the past couple of months he has been in conversation with about a hundred families and has cast two of the three main roles and many of the supporting parts.  Asylum is scheduled to be shot in New York in six days in April of this year.

Nesaru learned how to collaborate across class and culture by teaching in rural India and being a Hindi-English translator for an architectural project serving one of India’s profoundly marginalized urban communities. He has learned filmmaking by working as an assistant director in the industry and brought together an inspired team of young film professionals to produce Asylum.  I am confident he can pull off this ambitious and beautiful project.

Please join me in helping back Asylum.  So far, his team has waged a successful Kickstarter campaign and will be receiving in kind support from Broadway Stages (New York’s premier production company, home to a host of Netflix productions including Spike Lee’s series She’s Gotta Have It),  but we need a few more angels. We have a couple generous ones already, but we still need to find $70,000. Come on, step up! Be an angel or connect me to a funder!  I am happy to introduce you to Nesaru, share budget and script, etc. etc….

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