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Neighborhood Centers Inc. is a not for profit organization that brings resources, education and connection to over 400,000 people throughout Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast region every year.

The goal of this project was to find a way to intimately tell the story of a massive organization with a very broad scope. Rather than tell the history of how Neighborhood Centers came to exist and explain all that they do, we decided to take the approach of telling personal, individual stories about people they come alongside everyday.

Through intimate, cinematic narratives revolving around the people that Neighborhood Centers serves, “H Town Stories” was born.

With this story we wanted to show the circumstances and trauma that refugee families go through on their journey to the United States and what that dream means to them. We wanted Syed and his family to be a representation of the refugees that have found their way to Houston and are being supported by NCI.

Client: Neighborhood Centers Inc.
Published: September 19, 2013
The Challenge
This film created a unique set of challenges mostly related to working with a family from a different cultural background with different social norms and customs from our own and on top of that a story that was extremely sensitive in terms of the safety and well being of our subjects.

Our main character, Syed, spoke very little English. We debated at great length whether or not to conduct his interview in English or in his native language Urdu. We loved hearing him speak in English and seeing how proud he was to do so, but also knew that we weren’t getting the depth and detail that we wanted out of his story and with something like this where the backstory is so important to the overall narrative we knew we had to have a great interview.

Another challenge was in filming our main character’s wife Sadia. Saida preferred to be filmed with her face covered. This was something that was especially important to Sadia while on camera and we wanted to respect her wishes but at the same time she had such a happy smile and we knew viewers would connect better with her if they could see her face.

Also along these lines was the issue of having a man film a woman alone in an intimate setting like their home. This was something that the family had an issue with and we wanted to respect that.

And possibly one of the greatest challenges in covering this story was finding the right material and having enough of it to cover an extremely detailed and intense backstory because a large part of their story had already happened and we obviously weren't there for it.

The Solution
For the interview we decided that it needed to be done in his native language, Urdu. There was just too much nuance and subtlety about his story that we didn’t want to lose because he couldn’t communicate as clearly in English. This created a lot more work in post, but we feel it ultimately paid off in a big way. And it also made it nice to hear him speak English in his daily life. It stood out and was endearing.

Having a second shooter that was a woman really helped us deal with the sensitivity towards male and female interactions in their culture. We were able to have our Producer on this project, Caitlyn Greene, conduct Sadia’s interview and film the intimate scenes we wanted in her and her daughter’s bedrooms as they went about their day.

There ended up being a few scenes that we captured in which Sadia’s veil was not present. Both scenes were really nice moments that we felt were crucial to allowing the viewers to get to know her and see her infectious, happy spirit. In the end we were able to have an honest conversation with them about why we wanted to show those few moments without her veil and ultimately they agreed with the motivation and purpose behind showing those shots and allowed us to use them.

And finally, in order to cover the intense and detailed backstory of the events that took place in Pakistan and throughout their journey to America, we found great stock footage from inside the prison as well as TV news broadcasts and home video that really helped paint a picture visually of what this family endured to find their way here.

About the Client
Neighborhood Centers Inc. brings resources, education and connection to more than 400,000 people throughout Texas each year. For more than a century, Neighborhood Centers has offered comprehensive community-based programs for people at every stage of life – from infants to seniors. The organization works with residents of emerging communities in 60 service locations to help them discover the strengths and skills necessary to become productive, prosperous and self-sufficient. Building on the strengths of individuals and communities, Neighborhood Centers is transforming them. FOR GOOD. Neighborhood Centers Inc. is a United Way agency. For more information, visit www.neighborhood-centers.org.

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