Fate We Make began when Director John Filson was selected for the Filmmaker Fellowship program at Docs in Progress in Silver Spring, Maryland. The family was already a big part of John's life, and they were brave enough to start letting the camera follow them around. Most shoots took place in the Maryland/DC vicinity. 

Photographer Heather Wilson snaps production stills of the girls during filming.

Director John Filson adjusts a shot during filming for Fate We Make

Message from the Director:


As sectarian war took hold of Baghdad in the years after the U.S. invasion, Laith and Awat received increasing threats from militant groups telling them to leave--or else. Fearing for their family's life, they moved in 2006 to the city of Erbil in the Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq.

Fate We Make Director John Filson met the family in Erbil in 2007 when he was a relief worker for Mennonite Central Committee. He describes the way he became friends with Laith and Awat and their extended family: 

Awat working as a cook at the Chaldean Catholic Seminary in Erbil, Iraq

"Awat, along with Laith's mother and sister, were working as cooks at the Chaldean Catholic seminary where I lived. Eventually they began inviting me to their own home for dinner, until one day they stopped. When I asked what happened, they said, 'John, you know what time dinner is! Do we have to invite you every time?' After that I was part of the family."

Unable to go home to Baghdad and facing a precarious existence in northern Iraq, Laith and Awat applied for resettlement to the United States in 2009. After a tense three-year process with their future in limbo, they were granted permanent resettlement by the State Department in 2012. 

John recognized the appeal the family's story would have for Americans who are curious about Iraqi refugees. He says:

"Of course I am biased, but I think Laith, Awat and the girls make fascinating characters to watch. And while every refugee's experience is unique, this family's struggle to start over at zero in a totally foreign world offers great insights into the experience of newcomers in a community. We've all been outsiders at some point in our lives, and so much about the family's hopes and worries are experiences we can relate to." 

Thank you very much for your interest in this story! 

(From left:) Linda, Laith, Lubna, Awat, and Lilyan in their temporary home in Erbil, in the Kurdish provinces of Northern Iraq

Lilyan and Lubna practice their cinematography skills at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.