Ideas That Got Us Started

After the military coup in Chilé... I started, little by little, to realize how the world was. All the violence that was always there, and I failed to see it because I lived in a very privileged environment. In a way, we could say that many people in this country live like that. They don't realize how the world is, how big it is, how terribly painful life is in most of the world. I realized it in Chilé after the military coup, and I think I became a better person in many aspects. I grew up very suddenly. Since then, I have the feeling that I've always been growing up. Once you start, being aware, it's impossible to stop...
-- Isabel Allende

We wanted, starting way back in the summer of 1993, to make a series of films about all this -- the global migration and refugee crisis that began with the end of the Cold War. It was going to be called "Tempest Tossed," and in six hours of television, we hoped to explore the underlying contradictions and forces that were causing people to move, and how central they were to how the world was and why. Besides the continuum of migration categories, we envisioned particular programs on: the humanitarian aid industry in modern wars; the effects of the gulf between rich and poor countries; the political uses of ethnic hatred; the meaning of sovereignty; and the nature of the nation state.

We couldn't find a broadcaster for the series anywhere. Everyone told us, "Americans don't care about the rest of the world." "Only 4% of our audience will watch an international subject." We weren't exactly convinced that they were right, but we didn't convince them either. When the idea of making a film in the Asylum Office materialized -- inspired by a good friend who became an Asylum Officer herself -- we knew that, in a way, we had found our series all over again, turned inside out.

Those stark white offices were a set where America was colliding with the rest of the world several hundred times a day -- and on an intimate basis. People from all over the planet were sitting in the waiting room for all sorts of good reasons somehow related to refugee and migration issues. Some of them had experiences that fit the narrow definition that would qualify them as refugees. Americans on the other side of the electronically-locked doors had to decide whom among them would be granted asylum.

Now that Well-Founded Fear is finished, and finding an audience, people ask us often how we think the asylum system in the US could be improved. We have some ideas and opinions on that, of course, but we also would like to take this opportunity to pose a parallel question that we think is just as important or more so: "What could we do to make it possible for more people throughout the world to have the choice to be able to stay at home safely, and with a decent standard of living and opportunity, and all the human rights protections that are recognized by the international community and that are so central to what we believe in and how we see ourselves here in the United States?"

The quote from Isabel Allende is our starting place, and the two links are different ways just to begin thinking about an answer. There are, of course, many, many others and we hope you'll consider this challenge to look further. It's not always easy, if your luck has placed you in a privileged environment, to remember to think about how the world is. But the world is, and you are part of it.