Rain in a Dry Land
Two Somali Bantu families leave behind a legacy of slavery in Africa and find new homes in urban America.
Directed by Anne Makepeace
Produced by Anne Makepeace Productions
Directors of Photography: Joan Churchill, Barney Broomfield
Editor: Mary Lampson
Composer: Joel Goodman
Associate Producer: Su Kim
Associate Editor: Brad Kimbrough
A co-production of Anne Makepeace Productions, Inc. and ITVS in association with POV/American Documentary, Inc. with support from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund
In 2004, thirteen thousand Somali Bantu refugees realized their dream of coming to America. They are now living in fifty cities across the country, becoming the largest African group from a single minority to settle in the United States at one time.
"A sharp, deeply felt humanist tale" Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix
RAIN IN A DRY LAND chronicles two years in the lives of two extended Somali Bantu families as they leave behind a two-hundred year legacy of oppression in Africa to face new challenges in a strange new land. The film begins in January, 2004, at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where our featured families are stunned by what they learn about America in their "Cultural Orientation" class: refrigerators, stoves, bathtubs, elevators, stairs, buildings taller than one storey, schools, and all the things we take for granted in modern life. As their awe and excitement grow, the audience fears for them. How will these illiterate Muslim farmers who speak no English manage to survive in America?
These opening scenes in Kakuma introduce our featured families, both dynamic, charismatic, and very different in nature. Arbai is quick, strong, affectionate, a single mother of four with a great sense of humor and an easy contagious laugh, despite her devastating past.
Madina is fierce, vulnerable, wounded, strong; her husband Aden is volatile, moody, soulful, determined to provide for his huge family but uncertain and a bit naive about the life that lies ahead. Their witty, resourceful teenage sons, Ali (17) and Warsame (15), figure prominently in the film, as do Arbai's beautiful teenage daughters, Sahara (13) and Khadija (16).
The documentary follows these two families to America and through their first two years in their new homes. Aden and Madina, sponsored by Jewish Family Service, settle in the grim mill-town of Springfield, Massachusetts; while Arbai's family settles in Atlanta.
Despite racism, poverty, failures of the school system, and severe culture shock, both families do find ways to survive in America, and to create a safe haven for their war-torn families. The film ends with two vivid celebrations: the naming ceremony of Aden and Madina's first American-born child; and the traditional wedding of Arbai's oldest daughter, a colorful reunion of hundreds of Somali Bantu families converging on Atlanta from all over America.
Grade Level: 7 - 12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2006
Copyright Date: 2006
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-523-7
VHS ISBN: 1-59458-522-9
"Rigorously intimate and disarmingly affectionate...In following two subject families in their transition from Somalian refugee camp to underclass America, filmmaker Anne Makepeace never reduces them to devices or symbols or anything less than human beings caught in the cross-hairs of global politics. The film's honesty and grit should give it wide appeal...Gorgeously, purposefully shot...One noteworthy aspect is that Makepeace's movie never fails to be cinematic regardless of how free-form the director is forced to be, or how difficult the circumstances of a given scene; it almost feels that the film is blessed...a compassionate telling of what is often a heartbreaking story."
John Anderson, Variety
"With immigration on the American radar, director Anne Makepeace's documentary Rain In A Dry Land reminds audiences that immigrants come from countries other than Mexico and that their transitions can be hard, but ultimately victorious on some level."
John E. Mitchell, North Adams Transcript
"[A film] you'll kick yourself for missing...The way the camera passively observes the rough transition is unsettling...but underscores the way in which promises of aid and a better life can be difficult to deliver."
"Fascinating...Compassionately yet faithfully tendered...Makepeace's camera seemingly becomes just another family member and captures the range of events from the joyousness of a wedding to the frustration of everyday societal problems, not unlike those faced by all families around the world."
Dwain Thomas, Lake Park High School, School Library Journal
"The particular strength of this film is its intimacy, its insistence on portraying immigrants as complicated, high-strung people negotiating the personal boundaries between their traditions and western modernity."
New York Times
"Rain in a Dry Land paints an intimate portrait of the lives of the 'American Bantu', revealing their beauty and resilience without condescension, and illustrating the special care new refugees need with clarity and compassion."
East African Standard
"What distinguishes this film is its rich characters, combined with a mixture of poignancy and humor...Rain In A Dry Land may tell a familiar story, but it stands out in a crowded field. Recommended."
"A wrenching story of two Somali families trying to make a new life in America after 13 years in a Kenyan refugee camp unfolds with blunt honesty...it is an eye-opener."
Catholic News Service
"[Rain in a Dry Land] involves you so quickly that before you know it you care deeply about the people whose ordeals are being told...by truly letting us experience the immigrant journey."
New York Daily News
"Rain in a Dry Land was wonderfully provocative; it enriched and expanded the types of conversations that our faculty teams were having...I expect that many of the faculty members in attendance will include your film in future courses."
Kevin Hovland, Director, Global Learning and Curricular Change, Association of American Colleges and Universities
"A revelation. The movie is full of beauty,...poetry and song, and even an uplifting ending. You couldn't invent a more perfect tale of triumph over hardship."
The Lakeville Journal
"Rain in a Dry Land should result in a very lively discussion, probably with varying opinions expressed!...While some of the issues are the universal issues of families torn out of one culture and thrown into another, the needs specific to social work merit analysis and answers since there is hardly anywhere in America that is not experiencing immigrants and refugees. This is an effective teaching tool to use with social work students in the curricular areas of human behavior and social environment and social work practice where it can highlight culture, interpersonal relations and family dynamics. Rain in a Dry Land poses many questions for social work, answers some, and in a moving way, creates some of the same frustrations these families felt in their struggle for survival."
Louise P. Shoemaker, Professor and Dean Emerita, School of Social Work, University of Pennsylvania
"The film's unwavering eye captures the deep discomfort that is felt by both the newly arrived refugees and by the Americans who have come face-to-face with cultural issues they cannot comprehend. We intended to use this documentary as an internal training tool, but its content and message have proven to be so valuable that this film is now required viewing in all of our volunteer-training sessions. We have yet to find another film that tells the story of refugee resettlement so completely or with such compassion for its subjects. It is, in a word, extraordinary."
Sharon McCreary, Volunteer Coordinator, Colorado Refugee ESL Program, Director, Denver Refugee Women's Crafts Initiative
"The contrasting focus on Madina and Arbai underscores the importance of matriarchal society in Somali culture as both mothers learn to negotiate their new complex, urban and often confusing surroundings with great resiliency and equanimity. This film has strong educational value for students in helping professions by exposing them to the full continuum of migrant experiences, from preparation and departure from one's country of origin to arrival and integration into one's new country of residence."
Dr. Kristin M. Ferguson, School of Social Work, University of Southern California
"I was struck by the stories of both of these two families, and the suffering that was the context and circumstance of their lives in Africa. But the film successfully captured both women's personal response to their tragic circumstances and demonstrated very well how each struggled to get beyond the grief and loss and build something new and hopeful for their present and future lives...I am reaffirmed in my commitment to the refugee resettlement program by viewing this film; I am energized to push for a renewed national resolve to strengthen the refugee programs in the U.S. and worldwide; and I'm uplifted by the courage and persistence of Medina and Arbai who have overcome incredible odds to maintain their human spirit and dignity!"
Dr. Michael McKay, Director of Refugee Services, Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego
includes scene selection.
The filmmaker's web site
The PBS "P.O.V." website
18-page Discussion Guide
Awards and Festivals
Nationwide Broadcast on PBS's "P.O.V."
Chris Award, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Working Films Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Award of Excellence, Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropological Association
Gold Plaque, HUGO Television Awards, Chicago International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Sonoma Valley Film Festival
Showcase Screening, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
Best of Festival, Fire Island Film Festival
Margaret Mead Film Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
"Stories from the Field" United Nations Documentary Film Festival
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Atlanta Film Festival
Denver International Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Tri Continental Film Festival, Africa
St. Louis International Film Festival
Sonoma Valley Film Festival
Berkshire Film Festival
Woods Hole Film Festival
Mountaintop Human Rights Film Festival
Cucalorus Film Festival
Longbaugh Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"Truly phenomenal...This remarkable and important film should be seen and discussed by all those who work with or encounter Somali Bantu refugees, especially educators, students, community leaders, and the staff and volunteers from agencies or community organizations. It should also be viewed by anyone hoping to understand the refugee experience, and the challenges faced by newcomers to the United States of America."
Wayne E. Wright, PhD, Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, College of Education and Human Development, University of Texas, San Antonio