Dalya’s Other Country is the story of how Dalya, a Syrian girl, and her family face adjusting to a new, very different culture – and how her life has changed since she and her family were displaced from their home city of Aleppo in Syria’s ongoing conflict.
Dalya’s Other Country with two equally timely shorts: the Oscar®-nominated 4.1 Miles, which follows local coast guard officers stationed off the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of migrants have braved the Mediterranean to flee conflicts at home; and From Damascus to Chicago – two young Syrian siblings recently resettled in Chicago enroll in a dance class as their family navigates a new city and country.
Dalya’s Other Country, 4.1 Miles and From Damascus to Chicago premiere on POV on PBS on Monday, June 26th.
Airing June 26, 2017 on POV
Family struggles, cultural differences among challenges she faces in United States
Premiering with documentary shorts From Damascus to Chicago
and Oscar®-Nominated 4.1 Miles
A co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)
A smiling, effervescent teenager, Dalya is the focus of the new documentary Dalya’s Other Country, which tells the remarkable story of a family displaced by the Syrian conflict and explores a young life caught between highly politicized identities. Dalya comes across as an ordinary Southern California teenager. She takes selfies and goes to prom. She plays sports and hangs out at the mall. She is also the only student at her Catholic high school who wears a hijab. In 2012, Dalya moved to the United States from Aleppo, Syria, as her country disintegrated in the wake of a horrific civil war.
Starting in 2013, the film follows Dalya and her mother through what seems at first a typical immigration experience. They adjust to unfamiliar American ways, even as they maintain the cultural and religious traditions that sustain them. However, they grow tense and anxious as the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds and candidate Donald Trump calls for restrictions on Muslim immigrants.
At school, Dalya recites the Pledge of Allegiance. She dances in a talent show and wears her hijab as she plays on the basketball team. “Before, I was scared of doing everything. I wouldn’t do sports. I didn’t join basketball,” she says. But as Dalya adjusts to her American life, she becomes comfortable testing her abilities: “It doesn’t matter if have my hijab. I found out that I can do whatever.”
It was Dalya’s resilience that stood out most for the film’s director. “I first met Dalya when she was in her freshman year,” said filmmaker Julia Meltzer. “She was definitely shy and hesitant and getting used to her environment. Over the course of four years, I saw her really come into her own. I hope the viewers of Dalya’s Other Country understand something about what it’s like to be a young Syrian Muslim woman coming of age in Southern California.”
Nevertheless, Dalya’s mother, Rudayna, worries about her daughter throughout the film. “She was 13 when we came here, a dangerous age,” Rudayna says. “She looked around her and she tried to do things like other girls.”
Adjustment to life in the U.S. has been difficult for Rudayna, who tells the wrenching story of how the family came to leave Syria. “We were sleeping one night,” she recalls. “We heard, like, a big bomb around our house.” The war had started, and, she says, girls were being kidnapped. “The war didn’t leave any choice for me. I had to come here with my daughter.”
Dalya’s father, Mohamad Hassan, lives in Turkey and remains there partly because of his olive-oil exporting business. But the true reason he and Rudayna are estranged is that he has taken a second wife. “In my religion, it’s okay for the man to get married to two or three, four wives,” Rudayna says. Despite this, she could not accept Mohamad’s decision. “At that time, my marriage fell apart,” she says, “and then my country, too.”
Dalya’s Other Country follows a young girl’s coming-of-age, but it also highlights the challenges faced by older immigrants. “I hope [viewers] also take in Rudayna’s experience and imagine for a second what it’s like to be an older Muslim Syrian women who raised kids and then found herself transplanted into a totally different culture, with an opportunity to become a different person in midlife,” said Meltzer.
That transformation takes place when Rudayna decides to take classes at a community college. “It was a big step for me,” says Rudayna. “My life in Syria, it was just cooking, cleaning, having people over. That’s it.” Despite these new opportunities, Rudayna can’t help but feel out of place. “I feel like I’m on a different planet.… So many things to learn.”
In her final year of high school, Dalya plans for college and works on her application essay with her brother, Mustafa. She wonders whether moving to a new country and learning English affected her grades, and she cannot help but ponder what would have happened had she never emigrated: “If I still lived in Syria, I would have become a completely different person.”
“Opening our special series on the Syrian and refugee crises, Dalya’s Other Country and its two accompanying shorts, 4.1 Miles and From Damascus to Chicago, bring Americans closer to seemingly far-flung events and the people affected by them,” said POV executive producer Justine Nagan. “With strong, identifiable subjects, these films make the issues accessible to viewers across the country. Whomever they connect with, audiences can come away from the season premiere with new, intimate perspectives on these ongoing events.”
Dalya’s Other Country will stream online on pov.org in concurrence with its broadcast.
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About the Filmmaker:
Julia Meltzer, Director, Producer
Julia Meltzer is an award-winning filmmaker and the founder and director of Clockshop, an arts organization. She previously directed The Light in Her Eyes, a feature film about a Qur’an school for girls in Damascus, Syria. The Light in Her Eyes was broadcast on POV in 2012 and toured with the Sundance Film Forward program. Meltzer’s work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, IDFA, the Toronto International Film Festival and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. She is a recipient of grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and was a senior Fulbright fellow in Damascus, Syria from 2005 to 2006. She returned to Syria every year thereafter until 2010 to work and film and produced two short films and one feature from that footage.
Director, Producer: Julia Meltzer; Cinematographer: Anne Etheridge; Editor, Associate Producer: Catherine Hollander; Co-Producer: Mustafa Rony Zeno; Music: Asma Maroof, Daniel Pineda; Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White
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About 4.1 Miles:
4.1 Miles follows local coast guard officers stationed off the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of migrants have braved the Mediterranean to flee conflicts at home. The coast guard once patrolled the tranquil waters of this small island but now finds itself overwhelmed by the task of saving hundreds from drowning at sea. Docks previously lined with restaurants have become makeshift first-response centers. As one migrant’s body is carried out, an onlooker desperately yells, “The world needs to know what’s happening here! We can’t be going through this alone!”
4.1 Miles was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film received the International Documentary Association David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award, the Documentary Gold Medal in the 2016 Student Academy Awards and a 2016 Peabody Award.
4.1 Miles credits: Director/Producer/Editor/Cinematographer: Daphne Matziaraki; Consulting Producer: Orlando Bagwell; Executive Producer: Kathleen Lingo; Original Music: William Ryan Fritch; Additional Music: “Erotiko” by Thanos Mikroutsikos; Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White.
About the Filmmaker:
Daphne Matziaraki is a documentary filmmaker based in the San Francisco area. She was born and raised in Athens, Greece and has lived and worked as a filmmaker and journalist in Europe, Africa and the U.S. She holds a master’s in documentary filmmaking from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and a master’s in international relations from the University of Bristol.
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From Damascus to Chicago:
In the documentary short From Damascus to Chicago, two young Syrian siblings recently resettled in Chicago enroll in a dance class as their family navigates a new city and country. The film was first released online at www.theatlantic.com, the website of The Atlantic.
From Damascus to Chicago credits: Directors/Producers/Editors/Cinematographers: Colleen Cassingham and Alex Lederman; Music: “Human Nature” by Steve Porcaro and John Bettis, performed by 2Cellos; Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White.