VOICES FROM THE MARGINS is the nation’s largest social justice film fest for college students, sponsored by America Media and Ignatian Solidarity Network. ISN spoke with the 2016 First Prize winner Heather Mooney, a recent graduate of Fairfield University who studied film, television, and media. She decided to become a filmmaker because of her conviction that film is a beautiful platform to have a voice on social justice issues and express deeply held beliefs. Mooney’s film, Trust, was screened at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in November.
What was your initial connection to the subjects of Trust?
I first met Daniel Trust my sophomore year when he gave a speech at Fairfield University. He told his story about his survival of the Rwandan Genocide when he was just 5 years old. I was amazed by his positivity and his motivation to do good. Daniel came to America with nothing. He learned English, put himself through college, and became a manager at a bank. Daniel accredits his success to not only his motivation, but to the community support he had when he got to Bridgeport, CT. Daniel told us about the foundation he started to give back to people who do not have the resources to succeed. I was so inspired by Daniel that his story stuck with me for the next year or so.
How were you drawn to the theme you chose for this film, focusing on experiences of refugees in the U.S.?
As I was continuing to grow as a film major at Fairfield, I realized that I wanted to use film as a medium to advocate for social justice issues and to support small organizations doing incredible things in their communities. The formative experience that drew me to use filmmaking to tell social justice-related stories was when I took a documentary production course my junior year. During that course my professor, Fr. Mark Scalese, had us go out into the community and create pieces for organizations in need of film promotion work but without a budget for professional content. During that course I ended up creating a piece for the International Institute of Connecticut, which is an agency that places refugees in communities in Connecticut. That experience was really an incredible one and has directly impacted what I want to do professionally.
How did your initial connection to Daniel Trust through his speech grow into a short film?
As a senior at Fairfield I couldn’t stop thinking about Daniel Trust and his foundation. I decided to write him a letter asking if he would want to collaborate on a documentary together. I ended up meeting with Daniel and he offered me an internship at The Daniel Trust Foundation. During my internship Daniel and I created a web series called “The Daniel Trust Show,” where Daniel interviews his students to keep community members and donors up to date with the progress his students are making individually. Daniel loves his students and thinks of them like his own kids—I was inspired by that.
After a few episodes, Daniel and I decided to create a short documentary that would highlight one student. One of the many components of The Daniel Trust Foundation is the mentoring program, where people work with students one-on-one to ensure their success. Through The Daniel Trust Show I learned that Sachin Manning had dreams of becoming a pilot. Daniel and I decided that we wanted to surprise Sachin by getting him a flying lesson so he could fulfill his dream. Daniel’s goal in The Daniel Trust Foundation is to provide resources to help all of his students fulfill their education and career goals.
What are your hopes for what viewers will take away from “Trust”?
The goal of Trust was to show how a small foundation in Bridgeport, started entirely by a refugee from Rwanda, is growing and making a huge and lasting impact on kids’ lives in America. There are growing numbers of displaced people all over the world who do not have their basic needs met. People tend to have a negative view of refugees and immigrants, but my hope is that Trust is able to reveal the incredible people so dehumanized by many today.