YouTube and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced the release of a new film series that showcases the creativity and courage of refugees from three different regions of the world. The series was created and produced by Uncommon Creative Studio in association with Lief.
The short film series entitled “We Were Here,” which premiered on YouTube on June 20th, World Refugee Day, seeks to challenge stereotypes and perceptions about refugees by connecting refugees with some of YouTube’s most influential content creators around shared interests such as music, growing food, and building toys.
An original format created and produced by Uncommon Creative Studio, in association with Lief, who bring together a team of award-winning filmmakers who give each episode a unique tone and identity. The team behind the project include renowned director Alma Har’el overseeing the series as executive producer (Honey Boy, Bombay Beach), with Oscar nominated director Laura Checkoway (The Cave of Adullam, Edith + Eddie) on board as both series director and the author of one episode.
The other two episodes are directed by the internationally acclaimed Jordanian director Mahmoud Al Massad (Blessed Benefit), and British-Ghanaian rising star Curtis Essel, while the film scores have been overseen by highly awarded music supervisor Bridget Samuels (Under the Skin, Midsommar.) The important job of finding the refugee contributors was undertaken by documentary casting directors and BAFTA nominees Six Minutes.
The displacement crisis crossed a new mark at the end of 2022, with the total number of people forcibly displaced globally exceeding 108.4 million for the first time.
For many, the enormity and complexity of the issues can feel overwhelming: it is easy to lose sight of the individuals affected by displacement and see only the scale of the situation. The “We Were Here” series aims to give people an opportunity to identify with individuals by connecting with something we all share – creativity. Refugees have hopes and dreams like anyone else and being able to do what matters most to them has the power to impact the world.
“The Musicians,” directed by Laura Checkoway, features chart-topping DJ & Producer Jax Jones. In a village just outside Stuttgart, he meets displaced Ukrainian-Ethiopian sisters Betty, Siona and Miriam, who form hip-hop trio Fo Sho together. Restarting their lives in Germany, they are overcoming creative and personal struggles whilst discovering the healing power of sisterhood and music. Working on a track in the studio together, we learn both artists share a common language searching for belonging.
“The Toymaker” takes us into Azraq refugee camp, in the middle of the Jordanian desert. YouTube inventor Simone Giertz meets Mohammad Waheed, a grandfather, retired construction worker and Syrian refugee, known as the camp’s toymaker. Together they set out to build a toy helicopter that they hope will fly, along the way overcoming creative and cultural differences to form a deep connection. An uplifting, heartwarming and emotionally-charged film about play and creativity, which also gives a rare insight into life in a remote refugee camp.
Spanning Wales, Uganda and Germany, this episode directed by Curtis Essel sees vegan chef, permaculture enthusiast, and YouTuber Gaz Oakley meet permaculture expert Bemeriki Dusabe, a Congolese refugee who has been living in a settlement in Uganda for the last 16 years, where he has set up a foundation teaching others how to grow their food – a testament to the incredible strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. A poignant film about self-sufficiency, growth, community and connection.
Through these unexpected connections, these untold stories aim to inspire a new and engaged audience to see refugees in an entirely new light – sparking powerful solidarity with displaced people everywhere.