Communications alum documents the refugee experience to promote compassion and understanding
The refugee experience is a popular topic in the media, with images of families escaping violent, war-torn countries and debates about immigration policies sparking controversy worldwide. This exposure often leads to an increased understanding and empathy, but can also create a feeling of “us” versus “them.”
When Scott Lunt heard about an opportunity to be a part of the Azadi project — an organization devoted to helping refugee women develop digital media skills to empower their employment opportunities — he was all in.
Lunt — a BYU alumnus who graduated with an MA in mass communications in 2007 — was first asked by Priyali Sur, the founder of Azadi, to help teach the filmmaking portion of the workshop. Quickly, however, Lunt recognized the potential of the experience to shine a light on individual refugee stories.
“Right from the start, Priyali and I both thought it would make a good subject for a documentary to illuminate the lives of these human beings in a way that we can all learn from,” Lunt said. “I reconnected with a fellow filmmaker, Hanna Stawicki, and asked her to join me as a co-director. She agreed, and we were off.”
The film — shot entirely in Athens, Greece — follows three refugee women as they rebuild their lives in a new country. The women explore lessons they have learned from being displaced from their home countries, while gaining confidence, resilience and storytelling skills through videography.
“The opportunity to meet and get to know the people we highlight in the film and their families was a huge benefit of working on this project,” Lunt said. “These are now friendships that I will treasure for a lifetime.”
Last November, Lunt’s short film won the Changemaker Film Festival— a film contest sponsored by The Ballard Center where BYU students and alumni tell the stories of people solving social problems through film.
“Azadi” shows the women as they learn from the workshop, but also highlights the struggles of displacement and the refugee experience.
“It’s easy to think of these people as ‘other.’ Even though we genuinely mourn for them, we sometimes still feel threatened by them,” Lunt said. “I think we all could use more stories like this, to remember how closely tied together we humans all are.”
As Lunt got to know these women on an individual level, he wanted to convey their strength and resilience in his documentary.
“When I met these refugees in Greece, I found them to be wonderful people and I wanted to do my part to relate that part of the story — the part about refugees succeeding, being valuable members of their communities and living inspirational lives,” Lunt said.
Lunt’s passion for film stemmed from his initial interest in photography and the power that comes from a moving image.
“There’s something about being able to see another person’s face and hear their voice that allows you to connect on a very basic level,” Lunt said. “If a filmmaker can weave a compelling narrative to go along with those visual images, it satisfies something deep within us — a basic human desire to follow a story.”
Lunt grew up in Arizona, and his love for cameras has always been a part of his life. He moved to Washington, D.C to work for National Geographic and now works as a freelance filmmaker focused mostly on human interest documentaries.
During this experience, Lunt learned not only about himself as a filmmaker, but discovered the importance of collaboration and finding your “why.”
“I learned how much fun it is to collaborate on a documentary, and to let others put their own touches on the film that will make it better,” Lunt said. “The best advice I can give to current BYU students is to look earnestly for the ‘why’ in your film or project — the thing that it gives to the world — and to let the ‘why’ drive the film. If you do that, the project will find its own organic shape and consequently will have some benefit to others.”
Lunt hopes the film will inspire viewers to find compassion and empathy for those who they feel a distance from.
“I hope that viewers will see the women in the film as people they could be friends with and people they would want as their neighbors,” Lunt said. “I hope they are inspired by their determination and hope. I hope that we have a little more compassion and respect for people in these circumstances.”
The link to the documentary is at pbs.org.