Tribeca: Jon Stewart Reveals "Serendipitous" Involvement in Syrian Refugee Doc
The former 'Daily Show' host made an appearance at the world premiere of 'After Spring,' which provides a close look at the lives of the residents of the world's second-largest refugee camp.
Jon Stewart has largely stayed out of the public eye since he signed off as host of The Daily Show in August. But he resurfaced at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night to introduce the world premiere of After Spring, a documentary he executive produced, which takes a close look at the daily lives of Syrian refugees living in a massive camp in Jordan.
Still sporting a beard and referring to himself as "Jon Stewart's grandfather," Stewart admitted that he and fellow executive producer Chris McShane did "very little" on the film.
The former Daily Show host called his involvement in After Spring "serendipitous," explaining that someone he worked with in Jordan while filming Rosewater worked with After Spring filmmakers Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching and suggested they send their footage to Stewart, giving them his number.
"And they called me. And I looked at the original clips and I was incredibly impressed by how artful it was, how salient it was, and also that it wasn’t, the point of view didn’t overwhelm me. Whoever the filmmakers were did an incredible job at presenting and humanizing the story," Stewart explained, while introducing the film to a packed auditorium at Chelsea's Bow Tie Cinemas, pointing out that he'd visited the Zaatari Refugee Camp while it was being managed by Kilian Kleinschmidt, who's shown running the camp in the film.
He joked that he expected the footage to be from an acclaimed, well known documentarian.
"So I said 'OK, I’ll work with Alex Gibney or Rory Kennedy or whoever it was that did this,' " he continued, joking. "And then I find out it’s these two young punks, these two, and they’re these, they’re young, they display a sophistication and an artistry that made me angry at them, for how, just, they’re incredibly talented, wonderfully observational, incredibly dedicated, and as I said to them earlier, it has just been a privilege for me to be a part of the two of them bringing this incredibly relevant story."
While he didn't make any overt remarks about politics or the current presidential campaign, Stewart did indicate that the film provides a refreshing "human" look at what's become a contentious issue.
"We’ve all seen the hyperbole and the polemics, and the propaganda about who these refugees are and what these camps are and to see it in its most stark human, objective form is beautiful," Stewart said.
After the film, Kleinschmidt, who's described as now advising "European governments to improve their refugee policies" at the end of the film, suggested that world leaders "should see this movie."
"They should understand what's behind the logistics and politics of refugees, " he continued. "I miss exactly that human touch, which we just discovered here again, something we experience every day, out there, that these are people, human beings and it's not just a matter of commodities being stored somewhere and taken care of. Governments, unfortunately, as we speak, are talking about resisting, defending against refugees, building fences and walls and falling back to the ghosts of the past instead of talking about modern migration and immigration policy as we all should have and I think also the United States should go back to what this nation is all about. You are a nation of refugees, you are a nation of migrants, so please do remember that at any moment."
Following two families living in the camp, home to nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees, the film explores their daily lives as they wait for an opportunity to go home. The movie also explores the long, carefully guarded process displaced people looking to migrate into another country go through.
Indeed, Kleinschmidt explained that camps should give their residents the chance to move on that they're seeking.
"The camp maybe should be a camp for a couple of months. After that it becomes a living space. It should become a city. It should not just remain a storage facility for people," he said. "It should become something where exile actually becomes also a chance for the future. It becomes something where people actually have access to change."