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PDA documentary breathes life into refugee crisis

‘To Breathe Free’ featured at Washington, DC film festival

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Screenshot from ‘To Breathe Free.’

LOUISVILLE —To Breathe Free, a short movie produced by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), will be screened twice in upcoming days at the DC Shorts Film Festival in Washington, D.C. Produced and shot in D.C., the film follows the five-year saga of a Syrian family fleeing the war in Homs, Syria to refugee camps in Jordan to beginning their new life in the nation’s capital. The 16-minute documentary, which focuses on the humanity of refugees, brings a perspective and voice that goes beyond the political rhetoric surrounding the ongoing refugee debate.

To Breathe Free will be shown at Landmark’s E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. Sunday, Sept. 9 at 3:00 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 6:45 p.m. The film’s director David Barnhart, PDA associate for story ministry, uses home movies, phone video, family photos, and interviews with family members and former refugees to provide an intimate and unique perspective not seen in current media reporting regarding the refugee crisis.

“One of the many narratives that make up the complex history and identity of this country is the story of refugees and asylum seekers, and it’s shocking that the current administration is essentially denying this part of our nation’s identity,” said Barnhart. “Our film weaves together narratives of refugees, past and present, and I feel now is the time to honor and celebrate the refugee story as part of our American experience and identity.”

The refugee family and former refugees featured in To Breathe Free will be attending the Sept. 9 screening to present their stories personally and lead a Q&A session with attendees.

Three of PDA’s Story Productions documentary films have recently won Impact Doc awards, which celebrates excellence in social issue documentary filmmaking. They are Locked in a Box: Immigration Detention, Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, and To Breathe Free.

“We believe in the power of story to connect and create wider circles of community and essentially these documentaries are resources for communities and congregations,” said Barnhart. “PDA is committed to story and recognizes its value and importance as a means to cultivate community engagement and action.”

Visit for more information about award-winning documentaries and resources on immigration, gun violence, race and racism, and more.


Ticket information for the DC Shorts Film Festival and To Breathe Free screenings can be found at

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