×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘This Is Home’

The Syrian crisis comes to America in Alexandra Shiva's conventionally presented but effectively stirring refugee study.

Director:
Alexandra Shiva

1 hour 31 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7689946/

There has been such a massive influx of Syria-themed documentaries in recent years that it could be easy for festival audiences and critics alike to feel, if not jaded, at least a little weary: The war and its ensuing refugee crisis may be the most urgent international humanitarian cause of our age, but hasn’t the message been delivered? The answer, as long as the President of the United States raises barriers or speaks out against incoming citizens of any number of so-called “s—thole countries,” is: not even close. And so one can only welcome a film like Alexandra Shiva’s “This Is Home,” which moves no needles cinematically or politically, but makes a heartening call for open-armed empathy in an America still guarded on that front.

Sure to remain the only film in history with executive producer credits for both Princess Firyal of Jordan and blockbuster horror merchant Jason Blum, “This Is Home” brings warmth and communal spirit to the table as it follows the travails of four Syrian refugee families finding their collective feet in Baltimore over the course of eight months. Largely foregoing mawkish sentimentality and ripped-from-the-headlines rhetoric for practical nuts and bolts, this straightforward heart-tugger casts a deserved spotlight on the work of the International Rescue Committee, foregrounding the everyday tasks and processes — from language lessons to fundraisers to the simple challenge of grocery-shopping — that make refugee resettlement possible. Cable network Epix will broadcast the film following its Sundance premiere; “This Is Home” is likeliest to connect with international viewers, too, via small-screen avenues.

“I am Syria,” says recent immigrant Khaldoun — one of 372 Syrian refugees to be housed in Baltimore — in nervous, halting English, before an aide gently instructs him to add “from” to that sentence. It’s a symbolically telling error on which to open, one that inadvertently alludes to our own limits of understanding: To many a well-meaning onlooker, refugees register as no more than a mass embodiment of the ravaged country they’ve left. “This Is Home” gestures toward a more detailed, heterogeneous understanding of these war victims as human beings, characterizing its four chosen families in detailed, individual terms, and listening attentively to their varied expressions of ambition and concern for their new future.

For truck driver Khaldoun, who arrives in Baltimore via the Azeaq refugee camp with his wife Yasmen and their four children, America arrives as a series of culture shocks: He’s especially perturbed when IRC workers advise him that his wife may need to take a job to help the family get by. Mahmoud and Madiha, also parents of four, are equally thrown by this unfamiliar gender parity, though Madiha is quick to embrace its possibilities, eventually putting her expert catering skills to fundraising use in the community. Meanwhile, for career woman Iman, a doctor and World Health Organization worker seeking asylum in the U.S., resettling offers stronger academic and professional prospects for her three grown daughters, though ensuring their right to remain proves a challenge. Slightly less well-defined is father-of-four Mohammad, though what we don’t see of his story is poignant in itself: His wife remains off-camera due to security concerns for her family in Syria.

The eight months that refugees are legally given to become self-sufficient (after which time the IRC can no longer offer them assistance) gives “This Is Home” an essential structural framework, while the announcement of President Trump’s post-inauguration travel ban gives the film a spike of emotional panic and anger. (“We want to be the greatest country in the world, but we don’t treat people like we’re the greatest country in the world,” one IRC worker vents.)

For the most part, however, Shiva — who previously competed at Sundance with her 2015 doc “How to Dance in Ohio” — is content to keep matters loosely observational and character-centered. Laela Kilbourn’s bright, unfussy lensing and Toby Shimin’s similarly efficient, economical editing make few stylistic intrusions on the subject matter: The American Dream, after all, is a pretty no-frills proposition to these new arrivals, and “This Is Home” presents it accordingly.

Sundance Film Review: 'This Is Home'

Reviewed online, London, Jan. 18, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema Documentary Competition.)

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-Jordan) An EPIX presentation of a Gidalya Pictures production in association with Blumhouse. (International sales: The Film Sales Company, New York City.) Producers: Alexandra Shiva, Lindsey Megrue. Executive producers: Princess Firyal of Jordan, Jason Blum, Patty Quillin, Jocelyn Diaz, Jill Burkhart. Co-producer: Stu Pollard. Co-executive producers: Marci Wiseman, Jeremy Gold, Yvonne Huff Lee, Jason Delane Lee.

Crew: Director: Alexandra Shiva. Camera (color): Laela Kilbourn. Editor: Toby Shimin. Music: T. Griffin. (English, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

  • Crown Vic

    Thomas Jane's Police Thriller 'Crown Vic' Sells to Screen Media (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has bought North American rights to writer-director Joel Souza’s police crime-thriller “Crown Vic,” starring Thomas Jane and Luke Kleintank. The distributor closed terms during the Cannes Film Festival amid a competitive bidding situation between seven other suitors. Screen Media plans to release the pic this fall. “Crown Vic” premiered in April at the [...]

  • Colleen Bell

    Colleen Bell Replaces Amy Lemisch as California Film Commission Director

    Veteran entertainment executive and ambassador Colleen Bell will replace Amy Lemisch as director of the California Film Commission. Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, has worked as a consultant since 2017. She was the U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2014 to 2017. She held several positions at Bell-Phillip Television Productions, including [...]

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content