NARRAGANSETT – What happens when a Syrian refugee family moves in next to an American Iraq War veteran? This is the premise of the South County Filmmakers’ (SCF) latest short film, “Second Chance Cafe,” which will premiere at Jamestown Art Center on Saturday, Nov. 23. Following the film’s debut, three guest speakers will present information expanding on issues posed in the movie in an open discussion and take questions from the audience.
Shot over the course of two summer weekends in downtown Wakefield and the University of Rhode Island, “Second Chance Cafe” was conceived out of a desire to explore a global topic constantly in the news–immigration. According to Anita Russo, a member of the local filmmaking group, the movie is intended to provoke a larger discussion around the issue, and perhaps make audiences consider perspectives they previously had not explored.
“This film touches on a major worldwide issue–the integration of the millions and millions of people who are migrating due to war and intolerable conditions in their native countries,” she said. “And it also reminds us that ‘nobody wins’ in war, so why do we wage war? ‘Second Chance Cafe’ shows just a glimpse of what could be if we all just relaxed, took a deep breath, and gave a second chance to our new neighbors.”
“The plight of refugees and the ravages of war are in the news constantly,” Russo continued. “The filmmakers believe that this movie will help audiences understand that war reaches everyone, and to think about immigration not as a concept, but rather as individual people.”
SCF, a non-profit organization based in Wakefield and formerly the South County Short Movie Club, was born out of a class at the University of Rhode Island’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In the fall of 2013, a course offered at the Institute titled “Let’s Make a Movie” challenged students to make a short film from scratch in eight weeks. From that class, the idea to form a collaborative grew, and “Let’s Make a Movie” classmates have been working together ever since. Two original members of the class, Russo and Kate Marinon, served as co-writers of “Through The Red Door,” the group’s previous short that sought to comment on the state of the country in January, 2017. “Through the Red Door” went on to win laurels from both the Mystic Film Festival and the 401 Film Fest. Today, SCF describes itself as “retirees who have reinvented themselves as movie makers.”
“Second Chance Cafe” will focus on George Hale, a veteran of the Iraq War who is unemployed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, struggling to make alimony payments and attempting to remain close with his daughter, Sarah. Enter a Syrian refugee family who moves in next to Hale.
“It doesn’t take long for conflict to develop between George and his Syrian neighbors,” states a press release detailing the film’s summary. “The 15-minute film gives viewers a glimpse at what that conflict might look like, what fuels it and what placates it.”
“Second Chance Cafe” was entirely conceived, written, and produced by South County Filmmakers utilizing a shoestring budget of $4,500. The film collaborative gives its thanks to URI and Hall Director Michael LaPointe, who generously allowed the group to occupy two suites over two weekends in Wiley Hall, where most of the movie was filmed. The final two scenes were filmed at Auntie’s Kitchen on Robinson Street in Wakefield.
“Kathy Curley, owner of Auntie’s Kitchen, allowed the set dressers to swoop in as soon as she was closed on a Sunday to transform her luncheonette into a cafe with Middle Eastern flair,” said Russo of the production in Wakefield.
In addition to a screening of the latest short, the film premiere will also host a panel discussion afterward, in which audience members are encouraged to participate and ask questions. Guest speakers will include Joan Dwyer, owner of the All That Matters yoga center in Wakefield–a granddaughter of Syrians who will give a presentation titled “A Visit to Syria.” Also sharing his thoughts will be Bill Wright, a National Guard veteran with several tours of duty overseas who now works with veterans to help them cope with the horrors of war. Rounding out the panel is Abdelnasser Hussein, an Egyptian native, actor in “Second Chance Cafe” and former Islamic School of Rhode Island Principal.
“The South County Filmmakers feel that this short, 15-minute film is packed with things to ponder,” said Russo. “But what good is it to go home after the film, not having shared those ponderings? We want people to think about the ideas presented, and then share their thoughts. What better way to do that than by giving the stage to speakers and to the audience members? Without a larger discussion, there will be no movement.”
The film’s Iraq War veteran and male lead will be played by Jonathan Perry, owner and manager of the Newport Playhouse and Cabaret. The female lead, Hale’s daughter, Sarah, will be played by East Greenwich High School Sophomore Ella Saint. Finally, the Syrian father is played by Hussein and his daughter, Aisha, is portrayed by Finley Totten, a sophomore at South Kingstown High School. The films’ editor is SCF member Joanne Haynes. Also a member is the film’s director, Donna Gustafson. Director of Photography is Rajah Samaroo. “Second Chance Cafe” was written by Lisa Fiore and the producers of the film are the members of SCF.
“Second Chance Cafe” premiers at the Jamestown Art Center, 18 Valley Street in Jamestown, on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at jamestownartcenter.org and are available at the door.