Home is a conflicting concept to me. As a first-generation immigrant, I feel like I’m expected to maintain this reverence for a place completely foreign to me or this kinship for people I barely know. It’s weird. It’s confusing. That’s why the prevailing theme of finding/retaining a homeland in multiple documentaries I saw at Full Frame really struck me. It’s awe-inspiring yet heartwrenching to see people so similar yet so different to me having to fight for their homelands while I continue to avoid searching for mine. It changed the way I see and define what it means to have a home.
For example, in On Her Shoulders, a story following Nadia Murad (an Iraqi Yazidi activist and refugee), Nadia must escape ISIS after they take over her village, murder her family, and enslave her. This means she must leave Iraq, her homeland. She goes on to tell journalists her story, give speeches to the UN, and visit Yazidi refugee camps around the world. She desperately wants to free the people who remain in the village, and I think she also wants to return home with them. However, when she finally does get the chance to visit the village at the end of the film, she seems horrified at the utter destruction that is left. This, to me, was the central tragedy of the film: she’s fighting for a past, a home, that will never be the same. Her homeland is her past, her place, her people, and all of that has been irrevocably changed by this tragedy.
In another film, Rebuilding the Miniature, artist Ali Alamedy builds incredibly detailed mini recreations of idyllic scenes. However, the secondary focus of the film is Ali’s feeling of displacement as a refugee from the Iran-Iraq war. He never felt connected to the area he grew up in, and he had to move to Turkey to escape the war. He said he doesn’t really know the meaning of “homeland,” has never felt it. His homeland is a feeling of belonging, and his journey is not to maintain a homeland but to find one.
Finally, in the documentary Of Fathers and Sons, a somewhat unsettling look at a family of radical Islamists, the director, Talal Derki returns to his homeland of Syria to document the lives of the family’s father and sons as they prepare for combat and grow up together, all in a candid, empathetic (but not sympathetic) perspective. These individuals are willing to protect their beliefs and their homeland at all costs: their safety, their lives, their family’s lives — whatever it takes. It struck me that they were willing to destroy the physical (the land, their bodies) in order to preserve the abstract (their religion, their identity). To them, a homeland was more than a home and more than any piece of land. Their homeland is an idea, their faith, and in the face of potential destruction of that idea, they’re willing to sacrifice everything to protect it.
While these films didn’t really ease my conflicting feelings over what my homeland should be, they did introduce me to the struggle to define and defend various homelands around the world. To see such conviction in these individuals’ beliefs is honestly overwhelming, especially when those beliefs may or may not align with my own. It made me realize that I have my own convictions, that I have the power to defend them too.
Home is not simple or tangible, nor is it one single thing. It’s something you discover throughout your life, ever evolving and growing. It’s something you carry with you through hardships and discoveries, losses and victories. It’s something we all have the power to create.