Extending the Link to debut latest documentary April 26 and 30

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April 18, 2019

By Mike Killeen

In 2016, Danica Simonet visited Berlin, but it wasn’t a tourist trip.

Yet it set the stage for the latest documentary from Extending the Link, “Bayt Jadeed: Seeking Home.” (Bayt jadeed means “new house” in Arabic.)

The documentary makes its debut at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Saint John’s University’s Stephen B. Humphrey Theater, with a panel discussion of ETL and community members to follow. A second showing is at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at room 204, Gorecki Center, College of Saint Benedict.

Both events are free and open to the public, although free-will donations will be accepted at both showings. The group has produced a trailer for the documentary.

etl logoExtending the Link is a nonprofit, student-run venture through CSB and SJU and the Donald J. McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship. The group has covered a wide range of topics over the years, including fair-trade coffee in Guatemala, micro-lending in Chile and child-headed households in Uganda.

This year’s documentary, the 12th the group has done in as many years, could be the most timely topic the group has tackled. It looks at Germany’s efforts to settle over 1 million forced migrants who arrived in the country in 2015, and then compares and contrasts that with local efforts in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which has seen a large influx in refugees arriving from Somalia.

“Essentially, the idea was born from Danica’s work with refugees (in 2016),” said Mackenzie Kuhl, a political science major from Dubuque, Iowa, who is co-directing the documentary with Simonet.

“I spent the summer of 2016 collecting stories of predominantly Syrian women in Berlin,” added Simonet, a senior peace studies and German double-major from Northfield, Minnesota. “These stories left a grave impact on me as I witnessed the excruciating waiting and lack of agency in what these women had been experiencing.”

There’s a historical angle as well.

“We have a lot of German heritage, we were started by German immigrants, and this is a really cool possibility and opportunity to revisit what migration means to us,” Kuhl said.

Members of the group visited Germany just after Christmas and interviewed politicians from both the left and the right, as well as educators and citizens. A Syrian refugee traveled with the group in Germany and became the anchoring character of the documentary, although his name and face are not shown in the film to protect his identity.

The group then spoke with residents in St. Cloud, including Muslim community leader Ayan Omar, and prominent religious leaders in the Twin Cities.

“There are two main lessons I have taken from the creation of ‘Bayt Jadeed,’ ” Simonet said. “Choosing which stories to tell is the most difficult task of a documentarian. It is essential to continuously keep the story and your audience in mind.

“Secondly, the conversation of integration and resettlement is multifaceted. Most people have an opinion on the topic,” Simonet said. “Unfortunately, there are not enough encounters between people of differing opinions.”

This will also be a different documentary for ETL in that the group is offering no course of action to take at the end of the film.

“We’re not really telling people what to think,” Kuhl said. “This is new for us, to not have a cohesive, coherent ending. But it will be much more of an uncomfortable ending, leaving you with a lot of questions.

“It’s going to be unfinished, in a way, so that audiences continue their own conversations. We hope it raises a lot of discussion. Let’s talk about this in a way that involves politics, but prioritizes humanity from both sides,” Kuhl added.

“When our viewers are finished watching our documentary, we want them to feel as though there is not a clear answer because that is our experience as filmmakers,” Simonet said. “We want our viewers to process what they saw and to share with others how the documentary made them feel and if it changed any of their thinking. Ultimately, this is not a straight-forward topic.”

Both women say the situations depicted in the 30-minute documentary are not going away anytime soon.

“As receiving community members, we need to understand why people were forced to leave everything behind,” Simonet said, “and we need to ask ourselves how we can welcome new community members as Christ.”