Hamiltonians Bring Refugee Stories to the Big Screen
After roughly four years of work, filmmakers Loch Phillipps ’83 and Adam Bedient ’04 will screen their documentary for what may be the most discerning audience they’ll ever face — the hometown crowd at the Stanley Theater in Utica.
The film, Utica The Last Refuge, is a sort of love story (director Phillipps called it a love letter) about the relationship between global refugees and the once-declining Central New York city. Both sides prospered when the influx of refugees began in the 1980s. The hardworking new Americans built a new life for themselves and the city that welcomed them.
The filmmakers will be there when the movie is shown on Nov. 13, at 7 p.m., in downtown Utica. It’s familiar territory for them. Phillipps says he and Bedient made the trip to Utica some 55 times since they began production. The local producer on the project was David Chanatry ’80, who leads the journalism program at Utica College. He’s an accomplished journalist, and the other two have worked for years in filmmaking.
While telling a broader story of the city’s revival, the film focuses on the Azein family, who is originally from Sudan and came to Utica after six years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The filmmakers are at the Syracuse airport to document the Azeins’ first moments in their new lives on American soil.
Phillipps’ and Bedient’s interest in telling the story grew from their work shooting short films for the International Rescue Committee, a prominent refugee resettlement agency. In 2005, the magazine of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees praised Utica as “the town that loves refugees.” With the filmmakers’ Utica connections and knowledge, it was an irresistible choice for them when they began searching for a story to tell about refugees.
As it happened, the development of the film coincided with the Trump Administration’s decision to slash the number of refugees allowed into the U.S., and they captured the impact of that decision on the Utica community. The filmmakers are working with the Rockefeller Institute to show the film in nine cities across New York State in support of the institute’s new book Immigration: Key to the Future; The Benefits of Resettlement to Upstate New York.
“My goal with the film is to go around to areas where there’s a significant refugee population and show this to people and make it a means of identification for them, so that they say, proudly, that we are a welcoming area — like Utica,” Phillipps said.
The number of Hamiltonians involved in the project could fill a marquee. Hayley Goodrich ’17 and Matt Levine ’83 were associate producers; Leigh Hamilton Rae ’82 was outreach coordinator; and Matt Zucker ’82 was outreach consultant.
More about the filmmakers
Loch Phillipps ’83
A filmmaker for 30 years, Phillipps has worked with the Emmy-winning production company Hock Films, where he directed MLS Insider, and he’s directed for ESPN, Fox Sports, and Major League Soccer.
Adam Bedient ’04
Having served 10 years as an editor, director, and shooter, including with the Environmental Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood, Bedient is the primary director of photography for Off Ramp Films, where he works with Phillipps.
David Chanatry ’80
His career in television, radio, and print included working as a producer and writer at NBC News, and he’s had work appear on National Public Radio, BBC Radio news, in The Washington Post, and elsewhere. He chairs the journalism program at Utica College.