Toward the end of Sebastien Kraft’s documentary, "Shades of Light: The Refugee Crisis Abroad," a member of Amnesty International shares an allegory about a hummingbird battling a forest fire with a single drop of water at a time.
“Why are you doing that?” the other animals ask the hummingbird. “You’ll never make a difference.”
Kraft, a first-year student in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and a Schreyer Honors Scholar, made the film about the plight of refugees in his native France for the same reason the hummingbird took on the blaze.
“The notion is that one drop can help to tame the fire,” he said.
"Shades of Light" has been honored by multiple international film festivals since Kraft shot it during a four-day trip through Paris in August 2017, and he screened it at the Dunedin (Florida) International Film Festival on Jan. 12.
Kraft’s documentary tells the stories of Ahmed, a refugee from Yemen, and Djiby, a refugee from Mauritania, and also highlights the work of that Amnesty International member — Kraft’s great aunt, Marie-Edith Douillard, who teaches French to refugees. It juxtaposes the monuments of one of the world’s most beautiful and affluent cities with the struggles of refugees, some of which were disavowed by their native governments.
“I distinctly remember a moment standing in front of the Parisian mosque near my aunt’s apartment where I just looked up and was filming the mosque and I felt totally at peace with myself and the world,” Kraft said. “I felt like I was doing the right thing in shedding some light on the story.”
Kraft was born in France and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2005. His first documentary, made when he was a student at Montgomery Blair High School, explored the Keystone Pipeline and won honorable mention in a national C-SPAN student contest. He then completed a documentary about gun licensing, which received third prize in the same contest and was later a finalist in a Silver Spring film festival.
With the support of a Schreyer travel grant, Kraft spent three days in Dunedin, taking part in a Q&A session with other filmmakers and attending a massive awards gala on the final day.
“The sheer number of locations and topics being discussed was pretty mind-blowing,” he said.
An anchor for PSN News, Kraft aspires to become a broadcaster, either in the United States or in Europe. He has already completed a 26-page script for his next planned film, titled "Vis-à-Vis," a story about a young college student from France who has to learn the importance of letting people in. It is influenced by his own life, just as "Shades of Light" influenced Kraft as he filmed and edited it.
“I think, at least for me, making this film, it really resonated with me in my own life,” he said. “I was able to appreciate all that I take for granted, but I was also rejuvenated and revitalized, because their will to live, in spite of their dire circumstances, was evident. I told myself if they can do it, then I have to.”
About the Schreyer Honors College
The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 commonwealth campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.