Nickel City Smiler
Fundraise Click to Smile

A documentary film about refugee resettlement in Buffalo, New York.

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Character Bios

 

Smiler Greely

Smiler Greely

As a 10-year-old, Smiler and his family were forced to flee their small village in Burma after the Burmese military attacked, tortured, raped and murdered thousands of the country's ethnic minorities. As a teenager, he joined the resistance army to prevent the slaughter of innocent people at the hands of the Burmese Junta. Eventually, Smiler and his family escaped into Thailand and lived in various refugee camps for over 20 years. It was in Beh Klaw refugee camp, where he met and married his wife, Ma Dee, and became a father. In 2007, an optimistic Smiler and his family were selected for resettlement in the United States and assigned to live in Buffalo, New York's West Side. He works in the Buffalo Public Schools for the Refugee School Impact Program, helping refugee children and their families adapt to life in America.

Moe Joe

Moe Joe

Moe Joe is the oldest of Smiler Greely's children and was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where his parents married after fleeing the brutal Burmese government. He lives with his family in Buffalo's West Side neighborhood and is an A student, a video game fanatic and chess whiz. One day, Moe Joe wants to become a doctor after serving in the military.

Donna Pepero

Donna Pepero

Donna was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. She was a former elementary school teacher before leaving her position to head the Refugee School Impact Program in the Buffalo Public Schools. She and her staff of bilingual refugees work with more than 3,000 refugee children to become successful in adapting to their new environment and the American academic system.
She can be found having pool parties and barbeques with the refugee families she's befriended at her suburban Orchard Park home, where she lives with her husband, Paul, their five boys and two dogs. She is also an avid fan of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.

Nickel City Smiler Directors' Statement

 

Scott T. Murchie

Scott T. Murchie Director/Producer

Scott is a life long resident of Buffalo, New York, a 2002 graduate from the University of Toronto’s Film and Video Department, and founding member of Chance Encounter Productions in Clarence, New York. After securing funds in 2009, Scott began work co-directing his first feature length documentary: Nickel City Smiler.
 

Brett M. Williams

Brett M. Williams Director/Cinematographer

Brett graduated from the University at Buffalo’s Department of Media Study in 2005 and received the Gregory Capasso Memorial Award for outstanding creative work. He has produced numerous experimental, narrative, and documentary shorts before co-directing Nickel City Smiler, his first feature-length film. He is the father of a kindergartner.
 

 

We met Smiler Greely in the spring of 2008 and soon became aware of the extraordinary struggle and hardship he and the Karen people endured as victims of the cruel Burmese military regime. Smiler has seen and experienced violence and inhuman conditions that most of us consider a nightmare: people have been raped and slaughtered, their villages burned, and survivors are chased across the border into Thailand. This has been life for the Karen people and other ethnic minorities in Burma for the last six decades. After fleeing to Thailand, Smiler was at the mercy of a refugee camp for more than 20 years; confined from the outside world, dependant on rationed food, and without much hope.

Sadly, this situation exists all over the world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were more than 43 million "forcibly displaced people" in 2009 because of war, violence, discrimination, and oppression. Last year the United States accepted nearly 80,000 refugees from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Burundi, and numerous other countries, and has resettled approximately 2.5 million people since 1980.

As one of the many refugees resettled in America, Smiler and his family are looking for a peaceful life and a chance to succeed. Unfortunately, their dreams and hopeful expectations are often forgotten by the federal government and resettlement agencies that are contracted to help. Refugees are placed into poverty and dangerous neighborhoods, where they continue to face the violence and discrimination they sought to leave behind. How can anyone, particularly the system and the organizations hired to help, be so unsympathetic and indifferent towards those who've already experienced such brutality and loss like the innocent people of Burma?

Before filming, we met with the local resettlement agencies to get a better understanding of the processes by which refugees are relocated and supported. What we encountered was typical bureaucratic posturing about how well the system works. The meetings conflicted with the true conditions and lack of support we were seeing in the community. We felt compelled to give the refugees a voice. By filming from their point of view over a six month period, Nickel City Smiler documents the refugee's hardship and their incredible determination to one day live in peace and ensure a better future for their children.

We ask that you watch Nickel City Smiler with an open mind, as we did while filming. Refugees are not looking for handouts. They're looking for a peaceful life, a chance to succeed, and a smile.

 

 

CEP Films
Chance Encounter Productions