A Message From Joel Kambale, Director of Never Give Up While You Are Still Alive

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Hello New Neighbors Project Supporters and Fans,

First of all I want to say thanks to the supporters of the New Neighbors Project, Soft Landing Missoula, and the Government of the United States. I also want to thank the New Neighbors Project Team very much.

Today is a great day as it is the beginning of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival where our films will premiere. This is the first movies we have done. In the beginning things were tough! We have spent many hours, many months creating and learning - often by trial and error. It was difficult to think about which story to tell and how to say it. 

I want to thank the New Neighbors Team for keeping up the hard work. Communication was difficult at first between languages. Working a camera was very difficult at first (it is still hard now!), but they have found hidden skills within us. I did not know I was a filmmaker! But now I know, I am ready to move forward to create bigger and more stories. For helping us believe and see those skills, I am very grateful. 

These stories will help educate people, reflect on our cultures and integration in America. But also, it's important to tell stories just for the sake of telling stories. In all cultures and for all people it seems, storytelling is something very much within our souls and societies. 

Please come out to watch part one of my first film, Never Give Up While You Are Still Alive, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 20th at MCT as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. After that Renga For The West, a whole group film, will play. Be sure to celebrate with us at the afterparty at Black Coffee Roasting directly after the film screenings (around 8:45 p.m.) on Tuesday, Feb 20th. Then on Sunday, be sure to come out to the film created by my partner Justine Binwa, Kuwezesha Wanake (Women's Empowerment) on Sunday the 25th at 8 p.m. at MCT. 

If you aren't able to catch the films next week, we will be showing them again in Missoula and throughout Montana during March. Stay tuned and Asante sana! (Thank you!)

-Joel Kambale, Director of Never Give Up While You Are Still Alive

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Wrapping Up

I’m writing this while looking out of the blinds of my window at an unusually blue sky above Missoula.  It’s one of those confusing mid-winter days where you can’t quite figure out what season it is.  It smells like spring and looks like winter, and on top of that, I’m editing footage from late summer and listening to birds chirping on Waterworks Hill.  This project has been a bit like a day like today; we don’t always know where we are in the course of things.


For those who have followed or supported us it’s probably been equally confusing, but thats also the beautiful thing about participant-driven filmmaking: there is nothing streamline or predictable about it.  Participants and mentors alike have hit roadblocks or had breakthroughs in meaning at different times, in some cases a month later than we’d imagined ourselves shooting or editing any new content— and yet here we are.  


Refugee director, Bikyeombe Abwe, said at a Q&A last fall that every time you tell a difficult story it gets a little easier. And likewise, from my perspective as a filmmaker mentor, telling a story once might only teach you what you needed to learn to understand the real story you want to communicate. Creating these stories is like building something in layers without knowing how many layers it’s going to take. 


But we are getting to that point in the project where we can start to put concrete dates on things, announce screenings and share clips and stills from production.  In the weeks to come we’ll be waking back up on social media to start to share with the community, both locally and at large, what’s been going on and what to look forward to. 


To get us started, here is a collection of stills from the films of refugee directors Justine Binwa and Joel Kambale along with their kids (originally from the DRC).  They are in their second year as Missoulians, and their footage now reflects every season.  


Keep an eye out for festival announcements and trailer releases to see of more from Joel, Justine, and the rest of the New Neighbors Project in the coming weeks!


Until then,


Claire Haughey (DP, Director/Producer, Mentor, Friend, Neighbor, and Sometimes-Babysitter)


Hello Neighbors - from Missoula and beyond,


I hope winter is finding you well. As this year nears its end, the first iteration of our project is nearing completion. This means that both the refugee-directed short films and the forty-minute film which weaves their stories together are almost done (yay!). While these films may nearly be finished, there is a much greater story to be shared. It cannot be summarized by a master narrative, regardless of author, but can only be experienced through authentic and sustaining relationships: by being a true neighbor. We look forward to seeing you at the films’ premieres, screenings and film festivals in Missoula and across Montana, the greater United States and world at large.


These specific films are only one aspect of New Neighbors’ approach; we have been very busy growing with our directors, following and supporting them in all the directions they feel compelled to go. Please take the time to check out the growing library of fantastic music from Joel Makeci (https://joelmakeci.com). His first music video is nearing completion. We are also very excited to announce the creation of a film co-op, African Refugees Telling Stories (ARTS), which is the vision of two talented New Neighbors directors, Joel Kambale and Justine Binwa. ARTS will build upon the New Neighbors Project and continue to bring storytelling from some of Montana’s newest residents to the public discourse.

In these trying times, some are continuing to attack and propagate false narratives about people trying to find safety in our country. To confront these tactics of division, daily affirmations of community connection and taking the time to hear one another directly will keep Missoula strong. We know Missoula is up to the challenge. Your support of the New Neighbors project from the beginning (just over a year ago!) says a lot in itself. We got your back, too.

So:  to the refugee-directors, we must give multitudes of our thanks and support for their courage and hard work in sharing their stories with us. It is integral to the future of the Missoula community and beyond, of which you are vital members. We must also continue to engage through media and public discourse to ensure that the shape of our communities and the public discourse therewithin reflect the sum of all of our experiences and ideas, not just the select few powerful entities who traditionally shape these discussions and ideas. Citizen media and self-representation are crucial for democracy.


Warm Regards,


Gabe Sweeney

Director, New Neighbors Project


Greetings ... from Washington, D.C.!

As the seasons change (though it's difficult to see in Missoula, MT through the veil of wildfire smoke), so does the New Neighbors Project.


The project has entered post-production. Our directors have finished filming and are now at the forefront of the editing phase. As our directors follow their films’ narratives to an artistic close, the beginnings of new life chapters unfold.


Having asked themselves "what journey from my life do I want to share?" our directors have taken the opportunity to reflect. Topics they are exploring range from women's opportunities here and in Africa to garnering driver's licenses and exploring the Mountain West. Their connections with community (in Africa and America) continues to expand.


While their film products may be honing in on a finished form, the processes set in motion by the self-discovery of filmmaking are just revving up and - in many cases - have nothing to do with a camera.


We are a filmmaking cooperative; however, these larger personal developments in our directors’ lives are what we work hardest to promote. Where each director is headed benefits us all. It is my hope that many of you will experience this first-hand--you'll learn about them through their films but also through meaningful interactions with “new neighbors” in your own communities.


That is my goal for myself as I seek to serve the New Neighbors Project (and Missoula by extension) from the nation's capital. I will be pursuing development and funding opportunities for our initiative through a professional program. I want to help our directors take their visions as far as they dare to go (even if it means returning to Africa to spread a message). The next step is to provide the same opportunities for other communities in Montana that are too often treated as talking points rather than as our neighbors.


Creative director and my dear friend, Gabe Sweeney, will be serving as the New Neighbors Project's acting director during my time in D.C..


Thanks for your continued support,

Bryan Bello

Welcome to the Newsletter

As you and I know, Montana is a land as rich in cultural resources as it is in natural ones. A powerful tapestry of First Nations peoples share space with Hmong people; Latino migrant workers and family lines of former European ones traverse the same farmers’ markets, while students from around the world mesh between. The result is a heady blend of ideas and traditions culturing in a state open enough for it all to breathe.

Now, refugee families from the Middle East and Africa infuse their own cultural contributions to our distinctive salad bowl as they pursue honest chances at life.

Yet, somehow, Montana’s diverse cultural image is not evoked alongside the panoramas Americans conjure as they dream of Big Sky. Over the last two years the media (liberal, conservative and everywhere in between) has disproportionately painted us as the state of White Nationalism.

The New Neighbors Project not only fights for the reputation of our great state, but for its ability to further diversify through the promotion of inclusive dialogue.

With your support, we’ve provided some of Montana’s newest community members with cameras and a media education to facilitate self-representative, cross-cultural engagement throughout the state. The effects of this work extend beyond state lines as the larger film that we are producing about the filmmakers (along with their short documentaries) tours the country in a national screening initiative. Our refugee directors will be there every step of the way, speaking live to rapt American audiences about the messages of their films, representing Montana proudly.

None of this would be possible without the ongoing support of the Missoula community. You touched us again with your engagement in our First Friday event at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in which we screened early cuts of work emerging from The New Neighbors Project ecosystem.

We began laying the foundation for this project back in October 2016. Our workshop launched in March of this year. And now, as of July, I am so proud to report that seven men, women and children have successfully graduated the program and are seeing the truly extraordinary films they’ve boldly directed into the editing phase.

We anticipate screenings hitting theaters locally and nationally late fall. We’ll keep you all posted every step of the way--the newsletter written monthly and posts on our Facebook and Instagram pages updated regularly. You are our neighbors after all, and we’ve felt your goodwill throughout. We look forward to returning the favor with awesome community events and national engagement that makes Missoula proud. We stand on your backs.




Bryan Bello

Producer/Project Director