Since 2014, more than 6 million Venezuelans, around 20% of the country’s population, have fled their country of origin in search of a better life. They are driven out by low wages, rampant crime, food shortages and inflation.
Most of them walked, many settled in neighboring Colombia. The refugees are now called “los caminantes” or “the walkers”.
Andrew Kirschenbaum from Hamden was working for an NGO in Colombia, helping these refugees, when he decided to make a short film about their plight.
“People are picking up everything and walking to Argentina, Peru, Colombia, parents walking along the highway with their grandchildren, grandmothers and grandfathers in their 60s,” Kirschenbaum said. “Our job was to go up and down the highways bringing them food and medical care, washing their feet, giving them massages.”
Kirschenbaum’s documentary, “Nos Vemos Pronto” (“See You Soon”), will be screened at two New Haven film festivals this fall. It will be screened October 19 at 7 p.m. at the New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Elm St., as part of the New Haven Documentary Film Festival (NHDocs). It will also screen Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at 53 Wall St. in New Haven as part of the Latin and Iberian Film Festival at Yale (LIFFY).
NHDocs takes place October 13-23 in New Haven. NHDocs’ screening of “Nos Vemos Pronto” is part of a block of films about the refugee experience. The others are “Twice a Refugee,” a short film about a Rwandan in New Haven, and “Utica: The Last Refuge,” a feature-length documentary about a Sudanese family in New York. Film Day is presented by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. Admission is a suggested $5 donation, but no one will be turned away.
LIFFY takes place November 7-13 at various Yale University locations. The LIFFY screening of “Nos Vemos Pronto” will be accompanied by another film, “Once Upon a Time in Venezuela”, directed by Anabel Rodriguez. On Nov. 9 at 1 p.m., Kirschenbaum and Rodriguez will host a panel discussion, at a location to be announced during the Nov. 8 screening. Free entry.
Kirschenbaum is a 2017 graduate of Hamden High, who studied international relations at Roger Williams University. After college, he traveled to Morocco, Costa Rica and Colombia. He returned to Colombia to work with refugees.
“What was happening to them was incredible and devastating. People who are literally starving take all their stuff and leave,” he said. “I decided to report and document people’s stories.”
One interviewee, Johanna, left Venezuela several years ago, in the face of a flood of asylum seekers. She missed her homeland and wrote a poem for each year she was away. Johanna’s poetry is used effectively in Kirschenbaum’s film:
“We are a world where its inhabitants
repeat in cycles.
Sometimes out of stupidity
sometimes out of dissatisfaction,
and other times because
between ruins and bombs,
there is too much pain.
“This is when the worry begins.
You keep crying every night until the sun comes up,
and you know who’s coming.
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“She wasn’t forced to leave, but her poems are universal in many ways. They talk about the whole immigration experience,” Kirschenbaum said. “His poems are about the troubled life. People can log in as refugees.
Another interview subject, Ronald, set up his own aid station after fleeing Venezuela. “He understood what they were going through. From the point where the aid station is, there was still a month to walk to Bogota. People didn’t realize how long the trip was,” Kirschenbaum said.
After film festivals, Kirschenbaum said he hoped to do more freelance video work and build a team.
“For ‘Nos Vemos Pronto’, I worked as a solo band, but I want to involve more people and create a small, skilled global team,” he said.
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].