A local filmmaker who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 2015 to live with refugees in Sicily is screening her documentary, "Fata Morgana," at the Main Library of the Richmond Public Library on Monday, July 23.
Jen Lawhorne, who received a masters in film studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, lived for a year in Sicily and says that she hopes to educate the public on problems facing refugees in Europe.
The 45-minute documentary, “Fata Morgana,” which roughly translates in Italian to "mirage," was co-produced by Lawhorne and Ebrima and Toumani, two young men from Gambia and Mali trying to establish themselves in the northeast Sicilian city of Messina, who she discovered through a local refugee solidarity group.
As noted in a press release: "The documentary shifts the cinematic gaze over to the eyes of the refugees who filmed more than half of the documentary’s footage."
Lawhorne tells Style that the documentary is a little bit about her experience, why she chose to explore the topic, and mostly about how her life intersects with Toumani and Ebrima. It also covers the return of Italian fascism in the form of the extreme right wing group, La Lega Nord, which shares power in the Italian government.
"It's not a good sign for the future of the European union," she says, noting that she uses visual parallels with the United States and Trump's use of America First (similar to Italy First). "There are a lot of similarities between the refugee crisis there and here," she says.
The filmmaker has covered similar topics before. Her 2009 documentary, “The Little Trip of a Dream,” explored the lives of undocumented kitchen workers in Richmond and what they left behind in Mexico, according to a release. Lawhorne currently works as media specialist for a political advocacy organization, Progress VA, and teaches documentary filmmaking to area young people through ART 180.
She adds that "now is an alarming time with rise of xenophobia and the Republican Party catering to white nationalists." She hopes her film will be a call for people to make an effort to open themselves outward.
"There are millions of people living in really bad situations throughout the world, it's the responsibility of people in more developed countries to figure out ways to help them," she says. "The world is a small place and it doesn't do us any good to close ourselves off to other people."
"It's time for people to reject efforts to close ourselves off to other people. We all live on this planet together and we need to work together to find positive solutions," she says. "If we build walls, we're only making our situation worse for ourselves."
Lawhorne, who is influenced by artists such as Werner Herzog and Ava Duvernay, says she was sitting on the film for a couple years now, but realized with current news events she couldn't wait any longer. There will likely be more local screenings, as well as an online and DVD release.
“Fata Morgana” premieres Monday, July 23 at 6 p.m. at the Main Library of the Richmond Public Library.