World Refugee Day Music and Movies Recommendations

Join the Denver Public Library on June 20, 2022 as we celebrate World Refugee Day by celebrating different voices from media with documentaries, feature films, and music albums.

Documentary Description: In the summer of 1994, a team of public television reporters filmed and interviewed seven Cubans a few days before their risky venture of setting out to sea in homemade rafts to reach the coast of the United States. Six made it far enough to be picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. When these balseros (rafters) were finally allowed to go to the United States, the film crew went with them to a string of several cities. Seven years later, the film crew visits them again, to discover that their destiny has been in the United States. Theirs is a true story about some of the authentic survivors of our times, the human adventure of people who are shipwrecked between two worlds.

Movie Description: A refugee's escape, a prisoner's promise, and a daughter's painful secret converge in this inspiring real life story of hope. As three fathers fight to save their families, their lives become intertwined in an unlikely journey across the globe, where they learn the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Movie Description: Nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film (1981), THE BOAT IS FULL is a tense and heartbreaking drama that captures the plight of refugees during WWII. A ragtag band of exiles from Germany sneak into Switzerland seeking asylum. They are allowed to stay at an isolated inn as long as they pretend to be a family. In order to maintain this deception they must communicate with a young French-speaking boy, who cannot understand the rest of the German-speaking refugees. They must impress upon him the importance of remaining silent, or else their plan, and their lives, could fall apart. Director Markus Imhoof (More Than Honey, Eldorado) keeps tightening the suspense until the final, breathtaking minutes.

Movie Description: One of the preeminent works of the Hong Kong New Wave, Boat People is a shattering look at the circumstances that drove hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to flee their homeland in the wake of the Vietnam War, told through images of haunting, unforgettable power. Three years after the Communist takeover, a Japanese photojournalist (George Lam) travels to Vietnam to document the country's seemingly triumphant rebirth. When he befriends a teenage girl (Season Ma) and her destitute family, however, he begins to discover what the government doesn't want him to see: the brutal, often shocking reality of life in a country where political repression and poverty have forced many to resort to desperate measures in order to survive. Transcending polemic, renowned director Ann Hui takes a deeply humanistic approach to a harrowing and urgent subject with searing contemporary resonance.

Documentary Description: The evacuees of Hurricane Katrina tell how they survived the storm of the century and ended up at a military installation in the Utah deserts. Examines whether two cultures can come together in a time of utter chaos.

Movie Description: To escape the civil war in Sri Lanka, a former soldier, a young woman and a little girl pose as a family. They end up settling in a housing project outside Paris. Even though they barely know one another, they try to build a life together.

Movie Description: When a big-hearted but dimwitted Portuguese soccer hunk blows it in the World Cup finals, he goes from superstar to laughing stock overnight. His sheltered worldview is further shattered after learning about the European refugee crisis and he resolves to make amends by adopting an African refugee, only to find that his new 'son' is actually an undercover lesbian tax auditor investigating him on the suspicion of corruption. From there, he gets swept up in a gonzo comic odyssey.

Documentary Description: The intimate stories of refugees and migrants, caught in Europe's tightened borders. Amid the ongoing migration crisis, the film follows personal journeys over two years, as countries become less welcoming to those seeking refuge.

Documentary Description: A custodian. A housewife. A pediatrician. A grandmother. Seemingly ordinary individuals. Yet these individuals have a story to tell. It is the story of suffering and death. It is the story of refugees. It is the story of terrified villagers running for cover. Yet, at the same time, it is a story of strength, courage and hope. It is the story of Sudan. Over the last 20 years, millions have died in Sudan. A civil war devastated the South and currently a genocide is occurring in the western region of Darfur. 'Facing Sudan' is the story of ordinary individuals, moved into action by the events in Sudan. Ordinary people can do extraordnary things, even in Sudan.

Documentary Description: Animated documentary about Amin Nawabi, who decides to reveal a secret from his past before marrying his husband and share his story about fleeing from Afghanistan to Denmark as a young child with his mother and siblings.

Documentary Description: The Frontline film is both an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab's life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama; all while Waad films the cataclysmic conflict raging around them.

Documentary Description: Explores the indomitable spirit of three "Lost Boys" from the Sudan who are forced to leave their homeland due to a tumultuous civil war. Chronicles their triumph over seemingly insurmountable adversities and a relocation to the United States, where the Lost Boys build active and fulfilling new lives but remain deeply committee to helping friends and family they have left behind.

Movie Description: They were known simply as "The Lost Boys." Orphaned by the brutal civil war in Sudan that began in 1983, these young victims traveled as many as a thousand miles on foot in search of safety. Fifteen years later, a humanitarian effort would bring 3,600 lost boys and girls to America.

Documentary Description: The postman of a dying village in Bulgaria on the border of Turkey runs for mayor, hoping to revive his town by welcoming Syrian refugees.

Movie Description: A renowned war photographer with PTSD forms an unexpected bond with a Sudanese refugee, until one of his photographs unearths a dark secret.

Documentary Description: Ai Weiwei's detailed and heartbreaking exploration into the global refugee crisis.

Documentary Description: The life-affirming tale of 10,000 children saved from Hitler's grasp and placed with foster parents and hostels in Great Britain at the outbreak of World War II. Includes archival footage and decades-later rememberances of both the rescuers and the rescued.

Documentary Description: Europe is in the grip of an immigration crisis: people from Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere are arriving in ever greater numbers as they flee war, oppression, and a lack of opportunity. Germany receives more asylum seekers than any other European country. The Invisibles presents the human face of the immigration crisis, following four migrants from Syria, Kenya and Cameroon as they wade through Germany's rigorous immigration process and await the final verdict on their applications for asylum. At the initial registration center in Eisenhuttenstadt, the men bond with fellow asylum seekers and attempt to stave off boredom and growing anxiety about their future. For all four, Germany is their only option. 

Movie Description: The magnificent, epic story of an Ethiopian boy who is airlifted from a Sudanese refugee camp to Israel in 1984 during Operation Moses. Shlomo is plagued by two big secrets: He is neither a Jew nor an orphan, just an African boy who survived and wants, somehow, to fulfill his Ethiopian mother's parting request that he "go, live, and become." Buoyed by a profound and unfaltering motherly love - both in his memory and in the arms of his adoptive mother - he ultimately finds an identity and a happiness all his own.

Movie Description: In a narrow-minded Australian town, Hal falls in love with Randa, an Afghan refugee. Hal is unaware of the racist and cultural tensions that lie ahead as his friends react to Randa with insults and ridicule. After 9/11, intolerance and violence explode to a new level, but Hal devises a plan to defend and protect his love.

Documentary Description: Drawn from a cache of personal video recordings from the past 22 years, this award winning documentary is a startlingly personal profile of the critically acclaimed artist, chronicling her remarkable journey from refugee immigrant to pop star. Never one to compromise on her vision, Maya kept her camera rolling throughout. MATANGI/MAYA / M.I.A. provides unparalleled, intimate access to the artist in her battles with the music industry and mainstream media as her success and fame explodes, becoming one of the most recognizable, outspoken and provocative voices in music today. 

Documentary Description: When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili's head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

Documentary Description: This documentary looks at the daily lives of a number of Afghan boys from the MV Tampa, now living in Mangere, Auckland. Shot in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Nauru and New Zealand, it traces the circumstances that led to their arrival in New Zealand and the reunion process they have been undergoing as their family members are resettled in New Zealand. --Kanopy.

Movie Description: Hard-drinking, chain-smoking Ludvik spends his nights smuggling illegal refugees in his van from Croatia, across Slovenia, and into Italy. The young and inexperienced Rudi is his new assistant. Together they cope with life in a rundown town, home to the only nuclear power plant in former Yugoslavia.

Movie Description: ER doctor Rike (Susanne Wolff) embarks on a one-woman solo sailing trip to Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. When Rike comes across a sinking ship of refugees, she is quickly torn out of her contented and idealized world and must make a momentous decision. Aptly named after the mythological river that separates the living from the dead, STYX is an astute modern day parable of Western indifference in the face of marginalized suffering. Carrying practically the entire film Wolff is never less than remarkable in a riveting role as a woman pushed to her physical, psychological, and moral limits.

Documentary Description: 30 years removed from his Olympic dreams, a boxing coach and diplomatic refugee from Ethiopia rediscovers his desire to fight in Los Angeles.

Documentary Description: Feminine wisdom, passed through the ages, connects the inner lives of a group of women providing them with a sense of belonging. Through intimate verite footage, the film illustrates that which is invisible to the eye: The thoughts, memories and dreams of these mothers, sisters and wives as they grapple daily with past traumas and future uncertainty.

Bibb, Eric

Acoustic blues musician Eric Bibb left the U.S. for Paris, then Stockholm. While living in Europe he witnessed the influx of people fleeing war-torn countries in Asia and Africa. He says, “With this album I want to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere. As history shows, we all come from people who, at some time or another, had to move.”

Fugees

Member Wyclef Jean is a Haitian rapper, musician and actor. At the age of nine, Jean immigrated to the United States with his family. The group's name “Fugees,” was purposely taken from the word refugee, which was sometimes used derogatorily to refer to Haitian-Americans. 

Jean, Wyclef

Wyclef Jean is a Haitian rapper, musician and actor. At the age of nine, Jean immigrated to the United States with his family. Dream fulfillment and survival remain themes for Jean on Carnival III. He is “concerned with the upliftment of the everyday person, blending cross-continental sounds with a broad mix of well over a dozen guests.” 

K'Naan

Rapper K'naan fled his native Somalia as a child and resettled with his family in the U.S., first in Harlem, then in Rexdale, Ontario, where there is a large Somali community. His name means “traveler” in Somali. On Country, God or the Girl you’ll find, “sincerity, grandness, poignancy, political anthems, and big productions.” 

M.I.A.

Rapper and producer Maya Arulpragasam was born in London but spent much of her childhood in India and in her parent’s native Sri Lanka. While living there, the country fell into civil war when the Tamil rebellion (of which her father was a member) clashed with the Sinhalese majority. After losing many family members and friends in the war, her family returned to London as refugees when she was 11 years old. Her album AIM contains tracks like “Borders,” which was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis.    

M.I.A.

Rapper and producer Maya Arulpragasam was born in London but spent much of her childhood in India and in her parent’s native Sri Lanka. While living there, the country fell into civil war when the Tamil rebellion (of which her father was a member) clashed with the Sinhalese majority. After losing many family members and friends in the war, her family returned to London as refugees when she was 11 years old. Kala is an alternative electronic dance album, featuring vigorous beats and a wide-range of influences.

Mika

Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr. (known professionally as MIKA) was born in war-torn Lebanon. His family soon immigrated to Paris and eventually settled in Britain. On The Boy Who Knew Too Much he explores bright, multifaceted, dance pop.

Mika

Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr. (known professionally as MIKA) was born in war-torn Lebanon. His family soon immigrated to Paris and eventually settled in Britain. Fittingly, My name is Michael Holbrook is a more personal album, comprised of intimate piano ballads and exuberant dance pop.

Ora, Rita

Rita Ora was born in Kosovo to Albanian parents. Her family fled to the U.K. to avoid ethnic persecution during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Phoenix is her second album of pop R&B singles.  

Spektor, Regina

Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor was born in Moscow but her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 due to the “racial, ethnic, and political discrimination that Jews faced” in the Soviet Union. Far is a well-produced album that lets her pop talents shine while retaining her quirky and clever attributes.

Spektor, Regina

Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor was born in Moscow but her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 due to the “racial, ethnic, and political discrimination that Jews faced” in the Soviet Union. Remember Us to Life expands on her piano-based ballads while retaining her signature offbeat melodies and phrasing.   

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Thao Nguyen blends pop, rock, hip-hop, and other styles on her latest album. Temple is informed by her first visit to Vietnam in 2017, accompanied by her mother, who hadn’t been back since fleeing the Vietnam War. On Temple Nguyen explores the sometimes conflicting cultures and attitudes that shaped her family, her music, and herself.   

Summaries provided by DPL's catalog unless otherwise noted. Click on each title to view more information.