Beth Murphy, a 1992 alumna of The Documentary Center, will be premiering her latest documentary at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.
Her film, The List, details the struggles of Kirk Johnson to help former Iraqi co-workers escape their war-torn country. Johnson worked for the United States Agency for International Development rebuilding Iraqi infrastructures destroyed in the war. However, upon his return home from the Middle East, he received word of former Iraqi co-workers being targeted as “traitors” to their country for having worked with Americans. Johnson immediately began compiling a list of threatened Iraqis and attempting to secure their safe passage out of Iraq. The List follows his efforts over the course of four years, highlighting the stories of Iraqis he has helped.
How did Murphy choose this subject to be the focus of her next documentary project? She serves on the board of the International Institute of New England, an organization that helps settle refugees in the Boston area. In early 2007, the organization was told to prepare for a large influx of Iraqi refugees, especially those who had worked directly for the United States government who were being kidnapped and killed by fellow Iraqis. This expected flood of refugees, however, never arrived. Murphy called the State Department to find answers, and her investigation led her to Johnson. Less than a month after meeting him, Murphy began filming. To document the story, Murphy traveled from Iraq to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, braving war zones and hostile attitudes.
“Wherever he was going with his remarkable one-man fight, I wanted to document it,” Murphy explains. “To me, Kirk Johnson represents the best of America – who we want to be or imagine ourselves to be when we engage in the world.”
This is not Beth’s first Tribeca experience. Her first feature, Beyond Belief, premiered at Tribeca in 2007.
“I’m looking forward to having the film’s world premiere in an environment that truly feels like family,” says Murphy.
When asked what advice she could give to aspiring documentary filmmakers, she shared this bit of wisdom: “The most important thing I learned is to just stay true to the story you’re trying to tell," she says. This lesson recently was reiterated by her former teacher, SMPA research professor and director of The Documentary Center, Nina Seavey.
“One of the most profound things I heard during production came from Nina," says Murphy. "Since I studied at The Documentary Center, Nina has been a mentor and friend, and she served as story consultant for The List. I had been editing for weeks to establish the film’s narrative structure, and knew I’d finally had an important breakthrough. Nina said, 'The story—as it wants to be told—is revealing itself to you.' And I love what that says about documentary filmmaking and about life itself."
Seavey has enjoyed watching Murphy develop into a skilled filmmaker.
"Becoming a filmmaker is not about even making one film, or many, it is about exploring the world around you in an honest, truthful, and engaging way," says Seavey. "Over the years, Beth has grown and matured so much in these critical areas as she has been finding her own, unique voice as a filmmaker. It has been a privilege for me to be part of that discovery."
The List premieres on Saturday, April 21, 2012. The documentary is one of twelve films competing in the "World Documentary" category. Watch the film's trailer below.