The Ad Industry Helped This Duo Create a Powerful Documentary About Refugees

Heat producer and partner take 'Refugee' to Telluride Film Festival

Emily Moore, a freelance executive producer/senior producer, and Joyce Chen, director of integrated production at Heat, had a great story to share with the world—the heart-wrenching story of Aicha Diop, a West African refugee who had to leave her five children behind to come to America—but they needed money to fund the project and at first weren't sure where to turn.

Both women have spent over 15 years in the ad business as producers and decided the best way to get the documentary made, and on a short timeline, would be to turn to the industry for support.

Chen and Moore leveraged their industry contacts asking for both money and time to help complete the project. Companies including Rock Paper Scissors, A52, Elastic, Ring the Alarm, Lime, Imperial Woodpecker, Smuggler, Venables Bell & Partners, Arts & Sciences, Biscuit, Final Cut, Rattling Stick, The Department of Sales, Exile, Human and The Mill all helped bring "Refugee" to life and tell Diop's story. With help from all those companies, Chen and Moore raised $75,000 in less than two weeks and eventually got the film entered into the Telluride Film Festival.

Moore and Chen first came across Diop through a friend's nonprofit, Hello Vuelo, that collects money and airline mile donations to help bring together low-income families living far apart. After learning about some of the amazing things the organization was doing, and hearing some of the stories of families uniting after years of being separated, Moore and Chen decided someone needed to be filming and sharing these stories.

Diop was living in New York City, far away from her five children, and in the process of seeking asylum. Moore and Chen learned Diop was willing to share her story and set up an initial video interview with her to hear more. When they got the footage back, Moore and Chen knew they had found their story. "I think we both knew how compelling she was, how much willpower and strength she had. You could see her fragility amongst all that as well," Moore said.

Then Diop learned she received asylum and began working on the paperwork to get her kids to come over to the United States, legally. At that point, the duo had very little time to get moving on the project if they wanted to capture the reunion on camera. They needed to raise money and raise it fast. 

Both Moore and Chen said if they didn't have the advertising industry to rely on for donations, the project would never have been completed in time.

"When it came to seeing the potential in an idea to become a film that would hopefully be successfully told as a story through film and then having to put together and prepare the logistics of the shoot in very limited time, I think those are things that we were totally prepared to do given our experience in the business, and then it was all of the amazing contacts in the advertising world," Chen said.

Not only did a history in the ad business help bring the documentary to life, it also helped Moore and Chen feel revived and excited about their current roles. Some people have asked why the duo would even consider returning to their day jobs after working on such an incredible project. Their answer is simple.

"Advertising made this possible," Moore said. "We didn't have the money on our own to go and shoot this. We couldn't have edited and done all the amazing post-production on our own. This whole project has been such a great learning experience for us, each stage of it has brought us something new we could try on and figure out and challenge ourselves for."