Like good literature, a good film gives us a greater understanding of the experiences of others. We found these three films to be a valuable watch because they take us inside the turmoil, danger and hope of the refugee experience.


WARNING: If you’re wanting a light, fun watch, then none of these films fit that description. But if you’re okay with feeling shaken up and uncomfortable afterwards, then keep on reading.

Cartel Land: Lawless violence. It’s an experience that’s almost impossible for us to understand here in the states. While we may occasionally have protests and riots that get out of hand a bit, they’re nothing like what is experienced in other countries. Cartel Land, a documentary by Matthew Heineman, gives us a small, but terrifying glimpse of the reality that many around the world live in. The film takes an unflinching look at the drug-fueled violence of our neighbors to the South, focusing on two vigilante groups who are fighting the drug cartels.

One group, on our side of the border, is working to stop drug traffickers from crossing over. The second is a group of Mexican citizens working to stop the drug cartels from wreaking havoc in their cities and communities. The film definitely provides a fascinating look at taking the law into one’s own hands, but even more than that, it helps us better understand why people are so desperate to flee violence. The film is graphic. You see decapitations, you see shootouts, you hear stories that sound like they came from nightmares. Children and families being caught up in violence they want to avoid, but can’t, as there’s nowhere else for them to go.

Remember the flood of undocumented young people that came into the country last year from Central America? After you watch this documentary, you’ll understand how parents can be so desperate as to send their children alone and illegally into our country. If you were faced with your child being killed, raped, or drawn into drug gangs versus the hope of providing them a place of safety, which would you choose? The violence shown in this film is reflective of the experiences of refugees around the world, except in some cases, even worse as there are no police or government forces to ever intervene.

The Good Lie: Starring Reese Witherspoon, this narrative film follows the story of a group of South Sudanese refugees. It starts with the conflict that displaced hundreds and hundreds of children. When their parents were killed, these kids had to travel almost a thousand miles alone and on foot in order to find safety, braving weather, hunger, wild animals and Northern militia in order to reach the refugee camp.

The camp is safe, but not a great place to live and grow up. 13 years after arrival, they finally get the chance to be resettled in the United States. When they arrive, it’s culture shock, both for them and for the woman assigned to help them. The film takes an honest look at what it’s like to be thrown into a new culture where everything that was comfortable is gone, where people don’t try to understand you and have no idea what you’ve been through.

As a side note, there are some schmaltzy moments that might make you roll your eyes, as well as lots of language and a bedroom scene that might make you think twice before showing it to your middle-schooler. But all in all, this film is a powerful watch. While Sudanese refugees are no longer being resettled here, we now receive refugees from the DRC, Somalia, Burundi and other African countries that are as war-torn and violent as South Sudan was (and is becoming again).

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