We went into the week not sure what to expect other than sit-down interviews. We had just watched a documentary where they were with refugees when they arrived in America, got to their house, and went shopping for the first time. We both agreed that while that would be amazing, it was very unlikely that we would get access like that. Fast forward to the end of the week and we got agency staff setting up an apartment for a refugee family that would be arriving soon, an Ethiopian couple on their first day in the United States, and a Burmese family arriving at the airport and being reunited with their family for the first time in 15 years.
We went from expecting a lot of sit-down interviews to being right in the middle of very intimate and vulnerable times for people. Once things calmed down, and we returned to our hotel each night, I couldn't help but feel a bit shocked. I couldn't figure out what it was about us that helped these people allow us to connect with them and follow them through such emotional experiences. I'm not sure I would have been so willing if I were on the other side of the camera.
But then, after returning to Ithaca, I went to a documentary screening on campus about sexual assault on college campuses. Afterward, a survivor who was a main character in the film did a Q&A with the people in attendance. One person asked her why she was so willing to share such an intimate experience in the film. She said it was a little uncomfortable at first, but then she realized how important it was for her voice to be heard. I think that is probably similar to the thought process the people we were working with had. I could tell they were a little uncomfortable having the camera around at first, but then they started to open up and really share their story. We all have a story to share, and I think that if anyone shows genuine interest in our story, it may be uncomfortable to open up at first, but in the end we want our voices to be heard. I'm beyond thankful that the people of Buffalo were willing to share their stories with us.