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March 24, 2014, 12:15 AM | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Two women filming in freezing temperatures, tight quarters, and feces-filled mud might not be ideal conditions for storytelling, but Kate Ryan was determined to reveal some devastating truths.
Since age 9, Kate Ryan knew she wanted to work in the film industry. In film school, Ryan worked as a videographer with various non-profit organizations.
“These experiences helped me realize that my strength was in documentaries and non-fiction,” Ryan recalls, “and that instead of being a famous actress or director, I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.”
One of these groups for which she provided her video services worked with the Roma people in Eastern Europe, a path that would inspire her first feature film, “Welcome Nowhere.”
“I traveled for three summers to Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, where we visited Roma camps,” Ryan says. “It was here that I was first exposed to the racism and marginalization that this group faces, and was shocked to discover that such outward discrimination still existed in the 21st century.”
Seeing these issues firsthand raised a number of questions, and what initially began as curiosity turned into an intense research project that took over five years to complete.
The Roma people live in squalor. Years of prejudice isolate them from the rest of society. Their homes are dilapidated boxcars where disease runs rampant. Children often do not have access to medical care and are sent to segregated schools. Locals discouraged Ryan from even associating with the Roma community. Above these difficult circumstances was still a greater one.
“The toughest challenge I faced personally was convincing this community that I would fairly tell their side of the story,” Ryan says. “They had been so misrepresented by the media that they distrusted anyone who came in, no matter what they claimed. Thankfully, a couple who work with them served as my ambassadors to let them know my intentions to tell their story were sincere. This allowed them to trust me to do justice to their story, which in turn was a whole new challenge and level of responsibility.”
Ethan Hawke narrates the film, and his connection to the story is a personal one. “Ethan’s mom, Leslie, runs an incredible organization in Romania called OvidiuRo that works to provide early education to impoverished children in Romania, many who are Roma,” Ryan comments. “Ethan is acutely aware of the issue and therefore was willing to lend his voice to the film.”
Ryan wants “Welcome Nowhere” to expose audiences to an issue they knew nothing about. “I hope that they can see themselves in the characters, and can see the universality of what this story represents—poverty, human rights, and tolerance.”
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