Shepard is smart enough to helm Unsettled as more than just an observational documentary. He wants the viewer to be stirred and inspire them to act for change. He does so by employing a fantastic score that perfectly matches the highs and lows these people experience. And instead of going for big and flashy, Shepard keeps the focus rather grounded, which makes it more intimate, thus more emotionally rewarding.
However, that smaller view also brings up a minor issue with the film. While yes, Subhi, Junior, Mari, and Cheyenne all started on the road to safety before Trump got elected, his rhetoric must have made things more difficult for all of them (and the whole array of refugees they represent). But, aside from a few quick news clips, or footage from rally’s where the businessman turned politician riles up his base, there is very little attention paid to governmental policy changes.
“…keeps the focus rather grounded, which makes it more intimate, thus more emotionally rewarding.”
For example, Subhi’s sister is coming to the States. This is after Trump’s comments about sending all the Syrian refugees back. But the focus is on all the roadblocks and obstacles facing her escape from the country in a perpetual state of unrest. But were any new or unforeseen issues thrown at her due to Trump’s view of anyone not from the same country as him? It is left unclear, which is a crying shame, as Unsettled could have been a holistic view of how policy changes hurt not just the immigrants already in the country but those seeking a better life in the “land of opportunity.”
Don’t misunderstand, the documentary is still very emotionally affecting and intense. But it does feel a bit small, given what these four, and those in the same boat, deal with on a daily basis both in the United States and in their country of origins. But the lives, trials, tribulations, and challenges faced by Mari, Cheyenne, Junior, and Subhi are gripping and will leave the audience both angered and happy on their behalf.
Unsettled: Seeking Refuge In America is very well directed, as its laser focus on the plight of its subjects resonates with those watching. It is supremely well-edited, and the score ties everything together wonderfully. But its lack of exploration of new challenges the immigrants faced after the most recent presidential election does prevent it from being as comprehensive as it could have been. But that is a minor flaw in a very engrossing documentary that wants to give a voice to a very marginalized people.
"…wants the viewer to be stirred and inspire them to act for change."