Wiling away all those hours in 2009 as a prisoner of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, former Current TV producer-editor Euna Lee prayed for a better tomorrow. She was able to get to that place, move from LA to New York and complete the Master’s graduate documentary film program at Columbia University. This past weekend, she screened The Translator, her thesis film about Iraqi U.S. special-visa immigrant Taif Rady.
“The premiere was a part of DocFest at Columbia University, which featured ten documentaries overall,” Lee tells FishbowlLA via email. “About 100 people attended my screening.”
“The Translator is a 45-minute look at a formal, U.S. affiliated Iraqi translator and his 11 family members’ first three years in New York,” she continues. “The biggest compliment from this past Saturday for me was that the viewers were really able to see inside of what it is like to live in the U.S. as refugees and the tough life they really go through every day.”
“I received an email from one audience member saying, ‘It was an important story, told in a captivating way! You did a great job showing the real life decisions and hardships of new immigrants.” And Zachary Levy, director of the documentary Strongman, came to me and said, ‘You really told the story well.’ It meant so much to me from someone like Zach who made a beautiful cinema vérité film that he worked on for 10 years.”
Lee spent a total of nine months working on The Translator, including one day where she had to bring along her young daughter Hana into the field. “At the end of the day, I apologized to Hana for dragging her around for seven hours,” mom explains. “And she said, ‘It’s okay mommy. I love Taif’s family.’ That told me that I had fulfilled my assignment. Hana never had an Iraqi friend and didn’t know anything about them beside what she observed on TV. Now she sees them as anybody else in America. I hope this film has the same impact on others as it did for Hana.”
Some of the Raif family members featured in the documentary came to the U.S. as refugees. Lee and one-time Current TV colleagues Mitchell Koss and Laura Ling were working in 2009 on a series of stories about North Korean refugees when they were apprehended illegally at the China border March 17. Lee says Ling has not yet had chance to watch her Columbia doc.
Previously on FishbowlLA:
EXCLUSIVE: Euna Lee on Becoming a Better Journalist