Behind The Scenes: The Paradise That Wasn’t

In Fall of 2011, Evodie Ngoy shared her personal experience growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then coming to the USA in her short film An Education In Apathy produced in our fall Mentoring Video Project program. After seeing Evodie’s digital story about her experiences as a refugee, fellow Mentoring Video Project member Justin Burns decided that he wanted to work with Evodie to tell a bigger story about the experiences of refugee youth in Baltimore.

Justin and Evodie forged a productive team. Throughout the spring, Evodie and Justin had tremendous support from several local organizations. The International Rescue Committee and the Baltimore Resettlement Center allowed the youth filmmakers to conduct interviews with staff members to learn more about the resettlement process. They also invited Evodie to speak on a panel of refugee women at a spring IRC event. This ongoing interaction helped Evodie and Justin to realize just how many people share the experiences of their interview subjects. The Refugee Youth Project also invited Evodie and Justin to conduct interviews with elementary-school age youth refugees. These interviews were crucial for helping to show how refugees experience America soon after their families arrive. Local radio producers Matt Purdy and Stephanie Hughes from WYPR also lent Evodie and Justin their support. As regular guest artists, they helped Evodie and Justin to prepare interview questions and sift through through footage, hunting for the best quotes.
Evodie and Justin recently debuted their film at The Creative Alliance for World Refugee Day. We will be debuting The Paradise That Wasn’t online soon, but we wanted to share with you Evodie’s reflections on making her second film:


by Evodie Ngoy, Mentoring Video Project Youth Producer

I love the title of my film; I love how it summarizes the film from the beginning to the end. I’ve always wanted to tell people the story of what its like to be a refugee living in Baltimore: of what it’s like to leave your home and everything that you had and go to a new country that you thought would be like heaven on earth, but when you actually get there you totally experience what you weren’t expecting.  You are disappointed and heart broken. You get picked on at school and in your neighborhood. You feel like a stranger. Then you can’t take it anymore, and you try to fit in by changing the way you talk. You even lie that you are not from Africa. Those are the kinds of issues the film covers. I’m happy that I got to tell such a story. I also hope it teaches and encourages other people to accept each other because it doesn’t matter that we are from different countries. It only matters that we are all humans and we all want to live a good life.

Getting to produce and show the film to other people was a great experience. Seeing smiles on people’s faces because they were impressed with my work makes me happy as a film producer. There is nothing in the world that could replace that experience of feeling accomplished. I am proud of me and Justin, because the fact that we were able to write, edit, and produce a film, as well as getting the chance to screen it at two different occasions, is a very big accomplishment. Its now part of my history. I’ll never forget that I got to positively encourage young refugees like myself who have experienced the same things as me. From writing the script to shooting, I have to say that screening the film was my favorite part, especially at the Creative Alliance on World Refugee Day.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Evodie with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at The Creative Alliance Screening where she gave a copy of her film to the Mayor.


There were a lot of adults, as well as young people like myself. We all had one connection that day: the fact that we’re all refugees, and we were there to support each other. I couldn’t have been happier that day, my heart was full of joy. I did it, I accomplished something that I worked hard on and there is nothing anybody can say to me that can make me think any less of myself, because I know the sky is the limit for me.

Long live the celebrations in my heart for The Paradise that Wasn’t. My dreams are starting to come true. I don’t know how else to express this happiness…. Long live a film that will change the world and that will unite Baltimore together to be better and stronger.


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