The Dayton Film Forum: A Community Engagement Model

Are you interested in hosting screenings and conversations on relevant and timely issues in your community or congregation?

We are excited to share a new video resource that focuses on a film forum that was developed in Dayton, Ohio using our films Locked in a Box and To Breathe Free to discuss issues around immigration and refugees. Watch the video at the end of this post.




Sally Dyer of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio saw Locked in a Box at the annual meeting for PDA’s National Response Team, of which she is a member. At one point in the film there is a map showing where all the immigration detention centers are located, and she was shocked to learn there was one about 30 minutes from Dayton. Dyer’s original idea was to plan a screening of Locked in a Box and To Breathe Free at Westminster, but she soon found out a number of organizations across the city were planning their own awareness events around these issues.

“It began as a movie showing and eventually became a full-page ad in the Dayton Daily News,” said Dyer.  “All of these connections just came to be organically and we really felt the spirit was leading the way for this. It was just wonderful.” 

The week PDA filmed in Dayton, screenings were held at Sinclair Community College, Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Fazl-i-Umar Mosque

“Everyone was here for the purpose of learning, but also to engage and do something,” said David Barnhart, PDA Associate for Story Ministry and director of the films. “Everyone that came wanted to learn and do something. That’s the purpose of these films and exactly what we want them to be, a voice or medium to connect people and find their own way to engage with the issues. People get angry when they watch Locked in a Box, asking what they can do. They want to get involved and that’s the reaction you want. You want to encourage them to take action.”

Dyer is hopeful the series of events and film showings will lead to more hands-on ministry.

“There’s a lot of interest in possibly starting a visitation program at the facility in Hamilton, Ohio,” said Dyer. “We want to show the film again and continue to spread the word. We have these amazingly well-done films that inform and educate us.”

Dyer encourages churches in other communities to duplicate the success they’ve had in Dayton and incorporate other entities to raise awareness.

“Do some research in your own community to see who else might be involved in refugee resettlement or immigration issues and let them know about the film and see what develops from there. It could grow into something,” she adds. “I would have never thought about contacting the philharmonic or the opera to see if they have something going on around this topic. But now things have come together, and it has been just beautiful to watch.”

The Dayton Film Forum: A Community Engagement Model from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on Vimeo

Our hope is that you will be inspired by this video to engage your own communities and have conversations around these timely topics. PDA has documentaries and study guides on gun violence, immigration detention, refugee resettlement and more. See our website for more information.

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