Refugee All-Stars

Posted by Catharine Livingston and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Caroline Baron and Anthony Weintraub bring the drive-in to the dispossessed.

On a typical night in Northern Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp, some 4,000 refugees from across Africa gather before a 12-foot by 16-foot movie screen that hangs from the side of a truck in an open, dusty plain. The crowd stands transfixed for several hours at a time-they prefer standing to sitting on the coarse desert floor-as the evening's films play onscreen. Kakuma's refugees have been doing this three to four nights a week since the fall of 2001, when FilmAid first came to their camp.The creation of movie producer Caroline Baron, FilmAid International has a simple mission: to use film to enrich the disrupted lives of displaced people. The idea came to Baron in 1999 when she heard a radio report about the relentless boredom and despair Kosovar refugees faced after losing their way of life to violence. "All I had was this desperate need to do something," she recalls. So she picked up the phone and mobilized a team to bring a movie projector to Macedonia.
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FilmAid International has a simple mission: to use film to enrich the disrupted lives of displaced people.
Since then, FilmAid teams have brought movies to refugees in Afghanistan, Louisiana, and East Africa, where they currently reach more than one million viewers spread across seven camps. Baron, 45, now chairs the nonprofit while her husband, the screenwriter and director Anthony Weintraub, 42, serves on the advisory committee (the two first met at a Human Rights Watch event in 2000). Western faces like Charlie Chaplin and Judy Garland make appearances on Kakuma's truck-side movie screens, but most of the films shown are produced in Africa with plots that reflect local issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness, domestic violence, and conflict resolution. Besides providing entertainment, the hope is that the films can also educate refugees-and so far it's working: A 2006 survey by the Boston University Center for International Health and Development revealed that 96 percent of Kakuma residents found FilmAid helpful in reducing conflict and strengthening community building.Baron and Weintraub keep a busy schedule. After FilmAid took off, the New York City-based couple launched into parenthood and founded an independent film company called A-Line Pictures (the Oscar-winning Capote was their first production). Now, in addition to raising two children and developing six more A-Line films-including adaptations of two Ann Patchett novels, Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant - they plan to expand FilmAid into three new locations over the next three years."People ask me, ‘How can you raise money for films when people clearly need food?'" says Baron. "I throw the question back to the refugees themselves. They say the film is food for them-that if their minds are not well, the food doesn't help."LEARN MORE filmaid.org