Feature film about Syracuse’s refugees

A Hollywood production team is shooting two films that shine a light on Syracuse’s refugees.

A feature film in pre-production, called “New Americans,” will illustrate the struggles of Bhutanese refugees and why they came to the United States. The film is loosely based on a real family that writer and director James Mills met in the city when he was here previously filming a documentary.

“New Americans” began filming in October and started casting in the area for various roles, including the female lead. Local refugees were invited to audition – roles were available for Bhutanese, Somali, Sudanese and Burmese people, among other ethnic groups.

Producer Tony Estrada said the film wants to bring attention to the experiences of people from Bhutan and how they’ve created a new life for themselves in America. Through interviews – with Bhutanese people reached through an ad Mills placed in The Post-Standard – the team learned about the ethnic cleansing and other struggles in the country. This information influenced the final script.

The film follows the story of an African American man who wants to get out of Syracuse but is arrested and ordered to serve community service with a local refugee organization. During this work, he meets a young refugee from Bhutan, falls in love with her and learns about her culture.

Since 2008, when the first Bhutanese fled their country during a violent election, more than 2,000 refugees have resettled in Onondaga County. The community continues to grow.

The term “New American” is used by refugees and the organizations that support them and refers to people who came to America for a new life. Estrada said during interviews with Syracuse residents of myriad ethnic backgrounds, many of them embraced the phrase “New American” and spoke about how refugees have positively impacted the local community.

“Through speaking to leaders in the refugee community, we learned that the term ‘New American’ is like a badge of pride,” Estrada said. “Instead of being called a refugee, people like being called New Americans … And in particular these characters, this African American man and Bhutanese woman, find out what being American today means to them in their community.”

The production team is also filming a documentary tentatively titled “Syracuse,” which focuses on Syracuse’s refugees as a whole. It will explore how the area became a hub for refugees and how other American cities are following in its footsteps.