Documentary has local public premiere

Friday, October 15, 2010
T-G staff writer Brian Mosely, left, converses with the local Muslim imam, Muhammad Ali, right. (BeCause Foundation / Active Voice)

"Welcome to Shelbyville," the documentary about local response to Somali immigration, will be screened for the public at 2 p.m. Sunday at Shelbyville Central High School, one of numerous screenings being conducted this month.

There is no admission charge, and director Kim Snyder will be present to discuss the film.

The documentary was screened last month at the Brookings Institution in Washington and will air on PBS stations nationwide next spring, as part of the series "Independent Lens." It was directed by Kim Snyder. An invitation-only screening was held in September for local leaders.

English language students including Somali refugees hold American flags in a scene from "Welcome to Shelbyville." (BeCause Foundation / Active Voice)

Discussion time

According to literature distributed at the invitation-only screening, the film's producers are encouraging its use as a discussion-starter, offering the full-length version of the film, the hour-long version which will be aired on PBS, or even edited segments from the film for showing.

Times-Gazette staff writer Brian Mosely is interviewed in the documentary. While Mosely was working on his award-winning December 2007 series about Somali immigration, local emergency management officials contacted him. They needed to spread important health information and, to Mosely's surprise, literally had no idea whom to contact to reach the Somali community. After Mosely's series was published, emergency management officials got in touch with the local mosque and with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

New experiences

A number of Somali refugees, brought to the U.S. by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, moved to Bedford County to take jobs in poultry processing. There have been culture clashes and misunderstandings, and the documentary shows comments unfavorable to Somali immigration, but the documentary portrays Shelbyville as eventually accepting the immigrants. The documentary even portrays some specific residents changing their attitudes as they get to know the Somalis.

The documentary was primarily shot during the days of the 2008 presidential campaign and early 2009.

A local committee working to raise awareness of the documentary said last month that they believe it portrays the community in a positive light.

"I thought it was very good," said former city manager Ed Craig. " ... I think they're going to see a caring community dealing with issues that are common throughout the country."

Director's thoughts

Snyder, in an interview on the Tribeca Film Institute web site, said that Shelbyville "is in many ways a microcosm of many rural communities across the country that are grappling with the challenges of rapid demographic growth and integration. In this sense, there continue to be developments that provoke strong response and debate within the community. Obviously, the economy's downward spiral during 2009 translated locally into a debate around Tyson jobs and whether the growing number of unemployed long-time residents' prospects for these jobs were indeed being threatened, and if they were truly seeking those jobs at all."

Snyder told the Tribeca web site that Shelbyville was not immune to the type of angry sentiments seen during the Murfreesboro mosque debate.

"But at the same time," she said, "I believe that the efforts of community leaders depicted in the film have served to mitigate some of the more potentially radical and negative reactions toward newcomers that I have observed in other communities around the country. These stories exist, but the media seems to be focusing on them far less than Koran burning, for example."

The documentary's Facebook page lists upcoming screenings this month in Alabama, California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and Tennessee.

On the web