Doc­u­men­tary il­lus­trates LGBTQ refugees’ strug­gle for ac­cep­tance.

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By David Lewis David Lewis is a Bay Area free­lance writer.

The ab­sorb­ing doc­u­men­tary “Un­set­tled: Seek­ing Refuge in Amer­ica” fo­cuses on the world’s asy­lum and refugee sit­u­a­tion from a woe­fully over­looked an­gle: the jour­neys of LGBTQ peo­ple es­cap­ing vi­o­lent per­se­cu­tion in their home­lands and start­ing anew in the United States.

As it turns out, Amer­ica of­fers its own set of for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges, even in a place as wel­com­ing as the Bay Area, the main arena of di­rec­tor Tom Shep­ard’s in­ti­mate film, which can be streamed through July 13.

Shep­ard’s decades­long doc­u­men­tary ca­reer, in­clud­ing the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val award win­ner “Scout’s Honor,” has con­sis­tently been rooted in the jour­nal­is­tic prin­ci­ple of hu­man in­ter­est, shed­ding light on com­pli­cated is­sues by telling highly re­lat­able per­sonal sto­ries.

“Un­set­tled” is no exception, in­tro­duc­ing us to four refugees and asy­lum seek­ers from the Mid­dle East and Africa who have come to Amer­ica just be­fore the po­lit­i­cal as­cen­dance and anti­im­mi­gra­tion fer­vor of Pres­i­dent Trump. There is the cam­era­friendly Subhi, a gay man from war­torn Syria, who has fled death threats from the Is­lamic State; Cheyenne and Mari, an ap­peal­ing les­bian cou­ple from An­gola, who have en­dured end­less ha­rass­ment back home; and the gen­der­non­con­form­ing Ju­nior, from the Congo, who has ho­mo­pho­bic rel­a­tives who be­lieve that LGBTQ peo­ple should be put to death.

In less than 90 min­utes, “Un­set­tled” must cover a lot of ground: the per­ils of the refugees’ past, their per­sonal ups and downs once in Amer­ica, the tire­less ad­vo­cates who help the dis­lo­cated, the cost­of­liv­ing prob­lems that make the tol­er­ant Bay Area less than an ideal haven, and the na­tional po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that threat­ens to de­rail the refugees’ lives.

Yet Shep­ard al­ways keeps things on track, and his well­paced, beau­ti­fully scored film makes us see San Francisco in an atyp­i­cal light as wel­com­ing and beau­ti­ful, yes, but also be­wil­der­ing, lonely and in­tim­i­dat­ing. In­deed, though all the refugees make vary­ing de­grees of progress, we can’t help but feel that a rocky road still lies ahead for them.

Open Door Pro­duc­tions

Ju­nior (left), Mari, Cheyenne and Subhi, who es­caped the ho­mo­pho­bia of their home coun­tries, cope with fresh ob­sta­cles as they start new lives in Amer­ica.

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