MISSOULA- The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival kicks off this week, and one particular set of films making their world premiere hits close to home.

Some of Missoula’s new neighbors are sharing their story and giving a glimpse into their experience moving to the United States.

Missoula’s resettled refugee community has been making their home in Missoula for the past couple years since the International Rescue Committee opened an office with the help of Soft Landing Missoula.

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Justine Binwa spent months self-documenting her experience settling in and has as a story to tell about being a woman of Africa.

Her story is part of the New Neighbors Project, a series of pieces facilitated by filmmakers and supporters to put cameras into the hands of refugees, so they can tell their own story.

Binwa said, through Swahili translator Peter McDonough, that one of the biggest differences she has noticed in her new home is the way gender roles come into play at work and in the home.

“I really wanted to talk about the difference between, women’s, especially women’s lives in Africa and women’s lives here. Where, in Africa, a lot of women don’t have much agency over their own lives, and they’re forced to work, but then depend on and wait for men to provide all their food, all their needs, all their income.

She said in she has observed the opposite in Missoula, that genders do not dictate work roles, “and there’s a huge difference I saw immediately that I wanted to be able to share.”

“Something I think I would like to convey about the project is just how collaborative it’s been. The end products, the short films and the big film, it’s my footage it’s their footage its edited partially by refugee directors its edited partially by us,” said Claire Haughey, a videographer and filmmaker who helped the refugee directors shoot and edit their stories.

Haughey says they focused on maintaining the integrity of the first person narrative they were trying to enhance.

From Ethiopia, Congo, Iraq, and Eritrea, these new neighbors are hoping to share their story with Montana, one that Binwa says she hopes to spread beyond Missoula.

“It’s not a message specifically for Congolese women, or African women, or refugee women,” Haughey said. “It’s a message for all women who maybe come from cultures where if a woman’s husband dies or a woman’s husband leaves her for someone else, they are left with no skills and no education and end up in poverty. It’s a message for them, its a message for everyone” she said.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival runs from Feb. 16 until Feb. 25 at various venues across Missoula.

Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News

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