Clarkston, a small town in rural Georgia, is the most diverse square mile in America, often called “the Ellis Island of the South”. Since the 1990’s, this community has welcomed the opportunity to resettle refugees fleeing political and social unrest from more than 60 different countries. This part of Georgia is also home to local chapters of the KKK and other hate groups. Refuge presents viewers with a vivid contrast of both the painful legacy of racism and the generous hospitality that exists in our country.
In Refuge, we are introduced to Chris Buckley, a father and veteran dealing with the PTSD from his traumatic experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, who seeks an outlet for his anger by joining the local KKK. Chris’s loyal wife, Melissa, battles to keep her marriage and her family intact and presents her husband with a stark choice between his family or the Klan. You also meet Dr. Heval Kelli, an Islamic Kurdish refugee from Syria, completing his residency to become a cardiologist and offering pro bono care for the residents of Clarkston. Through an unlikely set of circumstances, Chris and Heval are brought together by Arno Michaelis, a punk rocker and founding member of the largest racist skinhead organization in the world who came to reject his racist past after experiencing unconditional forgiveness from the people he once hated.
In this time of divisiveness in our country, Refuge weaves together some tangible examples of everyday people working to overcome these divisions resulting in a remarkable story of transformation. This story demonstrates what is possible when we open ourselves to the beautiful tapestry of our shared humanity as a healing antidote to polarization and hate.
Our film screening will be followed by a moderated Q&A with Chris and Arno who were willing to confront their own fears and prejudice and are using these experiences to work now as intervention specialists with Parents for Peace, helping others to recover from their extremist views. Chris will be joined by his wife Melissa and their two kids, CJ and Meira, all of whom are featured in the film.
Directors Din Blankenship and Erin Bernhardt put together a majority female team to make this film along with a diverse film crew representing 8 different nationalities and over 14 different languages spoken. Their hope for Refuge is to share these deeply personal stories in order to reawaken the audience’s sense of empathy and compassion. This inspiring project attracted over 25 individuals who signed on as producers including Katie Couric and Geralyn Dreyfous.