Review by Nate Nelson
Salam Neighbor is more than just a documentary. Directed by Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, the film depicts their time in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, as they live alongside more than 85,000 Syrian refugees. The two filmmakers were the UN’s first dicumentarians allowed to cover what is one of the world’s most harrowing crises. However, “Salam Neighbor” doesn’t stop at just showcasing the refugees struggles: It gives them a voice, and shows their aspirations, hopes and fears. “Salam” is a lovely and affecting film that serves as a near-perfect documentation of Jordan’s refugee crisis.
Temple and Ingrasci’s journey begins several months before the beginning of their stay, when they created their non-profit Living on One. With this, they hoped to create documentaries highlighting the struggles of the disenfranchised. For their first project, they chose the Syrian refugee crisis. They hoped that by living the same way as the refugees, they would be able to understand the humanity behind such a massive issue. In that sense, the two succeed in spades.
The film is split between explanation of the crisis and problems, and intimate interviews with refugees and UN workers. Instead of settling for simply informing audiences of the struggles, they also let the emotions of the refugees (and the filmmakers themselves) take center stage. The interviews are often harrowing, depressing, and wholly disenchanting. However, glimmers of hope and pride slip through the cracks. Even in the face of such intense hardships, the people of Za’atari are shown to be not only resilient, but proud of who they are and their lifestyles. Over the course of the film, Temple and Ingasci show how the camp grew from a field of tents and relocated people to a bustling, yet small, economic village.
Going back to the emotions, this is a very emotional film on all sides. Children living out their days without a home, school, or even a full family. Mothers struggling to care for or even enjoy being around their children. Families violently ripped from their homes. These facts of the Syrian crisis come right to the forefront, to astounding effect. Temple himself breaks down in one scene after playing with a child. The struggles of the refugees are laid out plain and clear, and any documentary that creates emotion in the viewer deserves remarkable praise.
Salam Neighbor is not, however, a depressing film. Harrowing, yes, but also filled to the brim with hope. As one of the refugees, Ghassem, says, “If you find someone deeply traumatized, the first thing you should do is plant the seed of hope.” Temple and Isgrasci manage to sow that seed into the audience itself, using the stories of five refugees to show the humanity behind one of the most misunderstood crises of the modern era. “Salam” is more than just a documentary. It’s a film that can truly push viewers to action, and for that alone, it’s an absolute must-see.
2/19 • 10:00 a.m. • Winona State University, SLC 120