Student Wins Award for Documentary Showing Human Side of Refugee Debate

By Dan Verderosa, January 27, 2017

Student Wins Award for Documentary Showing Human Side of Refugee Debate

Ithaca College student Daniella Hobbs took home the jury award at the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Awards for her documentary film, “The City of Good Neighbors.”  

The senior documentary studies and production major accepted her award at a ceremony on Dec. 15 in New York City. Hobbs’ prize came in the east region of the best African American student filmmaker category.

Hobbs’ film explores the lives of refugees in Buffalo, N.Y. The city has taken in 14,000 refugees in the past 15 years. In November 2016, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called Buffalo’s embrace of refugees a model for the country.

Hobbs and her co-producer, alumna Evan Billington, learned about Buffalo’s history with refugees in a news article, and with the issue playing an important role in the 2016 presidential race, decided to focus on it for their thesis.

“We wanted to show the human side behind the refugee crisis and the debate over whether or not we should welcome in refugees,” said Hobbs.

One moment of humanity that Hobbs caught on film was the arrival of a refugee family from Myanmar and their airport reunion with family members they had not seen in 15 years. Hobbs, who filmed the arrival, said the significance of the moment did not hit her until hours later. “It was extremely powerful to be there and be a part of that,” she said.

In the course of filming the documentary, Hobbs and Billington met members of local organizations that help to resettle refugees in Buffalo, and found that support to be crucial to the city’s reputation as “the city of good neighbors.” She says active support from the mayor also helps. Hobbs also learned that the city benefits economically from the influx of people. “They’re not just coming into the community and taking resources, they’re giving back also,” she said.

But not everyone in Buffalo is comfortable with the number of refugees settling there, and Hobbs was sure to explore those points of view as well when she and Billington filmed at a Donald Trump campaign rally. She was initially nervous about going, and even bought a red “Make America Great Again” hat to put on in case people acted hostile towards her. Once she got inside the rally, however, she found the attendees to be open and willing to talk on camera.

Hobbs says the award win was exciting for her and her family. She is grateful for the help she received from her professors, especially Assistant Professor Arturo Sinclair, who helped with color correction on the film and connected her with an instructor who could assist with sound mixing.

“He was super supportive throughout the whole process, and it was a great experience because of him,” said Hobbs.