JAYU’s Human Rights Film Festival 2019: Our Review of ‘Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America’

JAYU’s Human Rights Film Festival 2019: Our Review of ‘Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America’

It’s a peculiar thought to consider if the latest from documentary filmmaker Tom Shepard, titled Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America about the everyday realities of LGBTQ refugees in America, is possibly a feel-good film. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to suggest that said film is purposefully designed in such a way, but there is a definite feeling of hope present here that’s wonderfully refreshing.

That’s not to suggest that Shepard’s film is all sunshine and roses. The film’s greatest strength is its ability to oscillate between the necessary emotions of its story. Unsettled rides a wave. When the crest is at its triumph the film is exuberant; when it swells to its lows it’s devastating. Yet, the film is perpetually riding said wave.

In terms of the educational component, I love how Shepard makes abundantly clear just how rigged the system is. Any sort of greater societal success the three subjects have, comes attached to the help of benevolent sponsors or pro-bono legal help. You realize just what the greater challenges of refugee status are, namely that it’s inherently difficult to perform basic tasks such as track down housing or gain employment without some form of help. It’s doubly so in the case of Angolan couple Cheyenne and Mari, who are trying to secure asylum without a source of income or legal assistance.

I personally wish more of the film was focused on the bureaucratic minutia. Shepard choose to emphasize his subjects and their emotions first, a choice that makes this feel more emotional than educative. I don’t think it’s a matter of choosing one or the other either, as both are doable with a bit more length. But for the choice that has been made, it holds up well enough.

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Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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