It’s easy to forget that safety is a luxury, but Richmond filmmaker Jen Lawhorne is prepared to compel us to remember.
Her new documentary, “Fata Morgana,” made in partnership with two African refugees, is meant to reveal and examine the hardships and transition process of the African refugee, the global refugee crisis, and what Lawhorne describes as the rise of fascism in Europe.
“People in Central America and Mexico aren’t the only ones escaping war and violence,” Lawhorne said in a recent release. “There are people all over the world encountering similar situations who are choosing to leave their homelands in search of a better life in more developed countries. Unfortunately, the door is being slammed in their faces by governments who are dealing with a backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment in their countries. What’s happening in the United States isn’t an isolated event.”
Using Sicily, Italy as the setting, Lawhorne explores the rise of xenophobic politicians in Italy and their strategy of placing the blame for a weak economy on the incoming refugees, many of whom escape in boats off the coast of Libya hoping to leave war, poverty, and famine behind them. The journey is long and dangerous, and many die before reaching European soil. This is the price they pay for just the possibility of safety.
The documentary then follows new refugees in a strange country, watching as they navigate new territory, a new language, and an entirely new culture. Co-produced by Ebrima and Toumani, two young men from The Gambia and Mali, respectively, the documentary is filmed through their eyes in the Sicilian city of Messina.
Jen Lawhorne is a Richmonder with a B.A. in mass communications and a master’s degree in film studies from VCU. After being awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2015, Lawhorne used the opportunity to begin “Fata Morgana.” She has spent most of her professional life devoted to immigrant stories, as her 2009 documentary, “The Little Trip of a Dream,” explored the lives of undocumented kitchen workers in Richmond. Lawhorne is now a media specialist for the political advocacy organization Progress VA.
“Fata Morgana” premieres tonight at 6 p.m. at the Main Library of the Richmond Public Library.