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Caz Forum June 14: Filming the Stories of Refugees in Utica

Refugees are bringing new life and hope to Utica, a city that lost nearly half its population between the 1960s and now. The “town that loves refugees” has been welcoming people from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia since the 1990s and, in return, the refugees’ presence has led to a cultural and economic revitalization of the community. Utica’s turnaround is documented in the upcoming film, “Utica: The Last Refuge”, which follows the stories of refugees, the agency the serves them and local officials as they work together for the benefit of all.

On Friday, July 12, 2019, the Cazenovia Forum will present the filmmakers and a segment of the documentary film, which is due to be released in 2020. They will discuss their experiences over more than two years of working with city officials, the refugees themselves and the local non-profit agency that helps them.

Produced by veteran journalist and Utica native David Chanatry and directed by veteran film maker Loch Phillipps, the film tells the stories of individual refugees and talks to experts who have compiled data that help explain a city that defies the conventional wisdom regarding refugees. Among the refugees’ stories are those of a Bosnian hairdresser who started the first female, refugee-owned business in the area; a Burmese grocer; a Bosnian with a thriving construction business; and a Burmese nurse practitioner.

The film also follows the efforts of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) as the agency responds to constant changes in policy produced by executive orders and court rulings. Local companies now work with MVRCR when they need employees and look optimistically on refugees as the stable workforce they previously lacked.

David Chanatry chairs the journalism program at Utica College, and is the moderator of the weekly public affairs program, Ivory Tower on WCNY-TV. Loch Phillipps has been making films for over 30 years for international organizations. Recently he has directed films for ESPN, Fox Sports and MLS.

The presentation will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the Catherine Cummings Theater, 16 Lincklaen Street, Cazenovia, NY. Admission is free, no reservations are required and audience members are invited to stay for a reception following the program.

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