In the summer of 2016, Buthaina al Zubaidi moved to Portland from Iraq after her husband disappeared without a trace. When she arrived, al Zubaidi found herself a tightrope negotiating rent, job hunting and caring for her four children, one of whom is disabled.
UNSTATED, Portland director Paul Kachris-Newman's 28-minute documentary, follows al Zubaidi's first year in her new home, set against the backdrop of Portland's socio-politically tumultuous past year.
The project began with Kachris-Newman's interest in people who are affected emotionally and physically from war. But stories of displacement have had a personal resonance with Kachris-Newman ever since he was four years old, when he and his mother fled an abusive environment for a halfway house in the middle of the night.
"I've lived in a shelter. I know what it's like to chase a sense of place," says Kachris-Newman.
Self-described as "a resettlement story in an unsettled America," al Zubaidi's experience is contrasted with footage cataloguing Portland's political unrest. The post-election protests and subsequent police-antifa conflicts act as a subplot to her daily struggles.
Kachris-Newman had filmed the social activity all year, from initial anti-Trump rallies and neighborhood meetings about the safety of Muslim Americans, to Joey Gibson's alt-right protest, at one point even catching a policeman lob a flash grenade directly at him.
"The film was developed very organically, because we were reacting to what was happening in Portland as I continued to interview and get to know Buthaina," says Kachris-Newman. "It was kind of electric for a while, so many things were happening all the time. In comparison, the conclusion for Buthaina is pretty simple. She just wants a job."
There's little mention of the war-torn region from which al Zubaidi fled. Kachris-Newman mostly just shows us her day-to-day concerns: getting each kid off to school on time, looking for better job opportunities, stressing about the healthcare marketplace.
Kachris-Newman incorporates interviews with representatives from Catholic and Lutheran charities, who work with the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization as local resources for new refugees. They explain the approval required by several government agencies before refugees arrive in the United States, pointing out that refugees are the most strictly vetted immigrants and the process typically takes years.
He also reached out to local law enforcement, including Natasha Haunsperger, who manages community outreach at the Portland Police Bureau. As a recent immigrant herself, she speaks about efforts to help them understand their rights, to "plant a seed of mutual trust before a crisis occurs."
There is a stark difference between Buthaina's measured, quiet persistence as she completely adapts to a new way of life, and the violent intensity of protests and events like the MAX stabbing in 2017, a difference that surprised even Kachris-Newman. "There are all these assumptions and paranoia coming from the general culture that she's being dropped into," he says.
It's clear things haven't been easy for al Zubaidi, but she balks when asked if she's ever harassed about wearing a hijab in public.
"On the contrary. When I get on Trimet, people stand up to offer me their seat," she says in one scene. "Life is always very different from one place to another," she says calmly, as the camera follows her youngest child smiling and snacking on a cherry tomato plant growing in front of their apartment.
SEE IT: UNSTATED is at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., cstpdx.com. 3:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 28. $7-$10 suggested donation, proceeds go to the Iraqi Society of Oregon.