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New documentary to tell stories from Clarkston

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New documentary to tell stories from Clarkston

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World Refugee Day in Clarkston. Photo provided to Decaturish


A new documentary film is telling the story of four residents of Clarkston, Georgia – a city just outside of Atlanta often called “the most diverse square mile in America” – according to a press release about the film.

Home to most of Georgia’s refugees and refugee support organizations, Clarkston is made up of more than 150 ethnicities speaking 60 languages,according to the city’s website. The film, currently titled “CLARKSTON: Mother of Exiles,” follows three refugees from Clarkston and a former Klansman from North Georgia as they “seek to re-establish their identities in a nation struggling with an identity crisis of its own.”

“It’s a place where a former white supremacist and a former refugee, each from different faiths, are friends,” Erin Bernhardt, the film’s director and producer, said. “A place where encroaching bigotry is met with baklava and peaceful protest, where tribes at war around the world find peace and reconciliation, and where U.S. veterans reconnect with the interpreters they served alongside.”

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The film’s crew is made up of 99 percent women and minorities from metro Atlanta, including several refugees from Clarkston, the release said. Bernhardt believes it was crucial to have a crew made up of a diverse group of people.

“Since the majority of film crews with a lot of experience in the Atlanta area are white men, this took a lot of extra work to find a crew that fit with our goal, but it was well worth it,” she said. “Almost every person on our team being underrepresented in the industry gave us all an immediate bond and made us all go the extra mile to prove ourselves. Another beautiful aspect is that everyone on our crew deeply cares about the issues our film addresses and are passionate about the hard work we do every day.”

Bernhardt was inspired to pursue the film because of her history volunteering in Clarkston for nearly 11 years, where she has encountered people from a wide range of backgrounds.

After the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Virginia, where white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Bernhardt decided it was time to tell some of the stories she had heard in Clarkston.

“I felt like making a film about the inclusive spirit of Clarkston where people from religions and tribes at war with one another across the world were living in relative peace and where hate was being healed was no longer something I could wait to do — it was a film that needed to be made now,” she said.

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Throughout the film making process, Bernhardt encountered a number of challenges – one of the biggest being building trust with the community. A number of media organizations have previously covered Clarkston, from the Today show to The Guardian, but have only told “quick versions of the many complex stories there,” Bernhardt said.

For this reason, along with the trauma many Clarkston residents have faced in fleeing their homes as refugees, meant Bernhardt had to be respectful and conscientious throughout the process.

“We needed to be constantly present and listening and respectful of boundaries people and organizations set as they began to share their lives with us on camera,” she said.

Now, the film is about to make its premiere, with the trailer releasing on Feb. 1. According to the release, the trailer will be exclusively available throughout February on the crowd-raising website Seed & Spark (which, Bernhardt notes, is also a female-founded company) “with the goal of growing the film’s audience as they prepare for an ambitious release less than a year from now.”

Ultimately, Bernhardt’s main goal is to make a difference, not a profit.

“I hope this film opens millions of peoples’ eyes, minds, and hearts to “the other” so that they no longer fear or hate people different from them,” she said.

To learn more about the film, click here.

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