Film Creates a Deeper Understanding of Immigrant Struggles


Filmmaker John Sorensen presented his documentary "The Quilted Conscience," at Grand Island's Grand Theater.

The 60-minute film shows the story of a group of sixteen Sudanese-American girls, refugees from the genocide in Sudan, whose families are thrust into a new life in Grand Island.

The girls were all students in Grand Island Public Schools at the time of the filming four years ago.

Peggie Hartwell was one of the artists helping the group of girls share their stories and dreams through the art of quilt making.

Hartwell, who came from a family of struggling cotton farmers said, "My experience was different from the students I worked with, but it was similar because I came from a background where we had to leave to get a better education."

Wajdan Yusif, 18, was one of the girls involved in the documentary. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was five years old, and like other girls involved in the film, she has faint memories of her life in Africa. "It was scary feeling at first, leaving your family behind but in the end it was all right," Yusif said.

Filmmaker John Sorensen, who now lives in New York, is a Grand Island native. Sorensen said the project is particularly important to him because of his Grand Island roots. "I've seen the town change drastically over my lifetime," he said.

"Grace Abbott did extensive work for children, immigrants, and women, and I wanted to do some project for the female immigrant children of her hometown to honor her legacy," Sorensen said.

Sorensen said he wants all children to have equal opportunity, but that it's sometimes difficult for immigrant children whose parents have been through unimaginable struggles.

His documentary mostly follows those 16 young girls. Sorensen said many of their parents work long hours, so they decided to focus the film on the children. However the documentary does include stories of some of the adults that explain the scenes of war and tragedy they've experienced in their troubled homeland.

"I hope the film becomes an opportunity for people to really get to know one another," Sorensen said.

When asked about what she wants viewers to gain from the documentary, Yusif said "I want them to be themselves, and not afraid to show who they are, and always remember where they come from."

The students' wall-size quilt mural is on permanent display at Grand Island's Edith Abbott Memorial Library.

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