Hemedi had to Google Knoxville, Tennessee, when he learned as a Congolese refugee living in Burundi that he would be resettled here.
This month, a movie he helped produce and film will be featured in the Knoxville Film Festival. It will screen as part of a block of short films featured 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15.
The film is directed by Brian Notess, an executive producer for video production at the University of Tennessee and Bridge volunteer. He met Hemedi shortly after he arrived in 2016 and took him on his first photo shoot to the bluffs off Cherokee Trail, where he got his first view of the Knoxville cityscape.
“Bridge told me that one of their recent clients had some photography and video experience,” Brian says.
Subsequently, Brian and Hemedi worked together on several photography projects—including two featuring volunteers at Bridge’s Knoxville office—and Brian approached Hemedi with his ideo for the movie.
Called “Congolese,” the film is about a Congolese boy who meets an American girl shortly after he has moved to the United States.
“How do they meet, on Facebook?” Hemedi asked? The script was written to feature half dialogue in Swahili and also referenced Hemedi’s personal story as a young boy who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost his father in the process.
Hemedi was only 15 years old when his hometown of Uvira was overrun with soldiers at the outbreak of the Second Congo War. He and his family were among the lucky one who had only a short distance to travel across the border to Burundi, a country that accepted those fleeing the violence. Still, Hemedi and his sister spent most of a day ducking into alleys, avoiding gunfire and grenades, as they attempted the normally short trip to Bujumbura, Burundi, on foot.
Hemedi and his family were among an estimated 922,000 displaced by the war, and in 2001 his father applied for refugee status. In the 16 years it took for Hemedi and his sister to be resettled, he learned photography and video production.
Brian relied on Hemedi’s experience heavily when casting, rehearsing and shooting the scenes featuring Swahili speakers.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say I really couldn’t have done it without him,” said Notess. “He put as much into it as anyone else. We really hope people enjoy the film and are inspired to learn a little bit more about the stories of refugees.”
Here is more information on the Knoxville Film Festival.