BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE LETTER

By • Sep 27th, 2005 •

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2003 Hamzeh Mystique Films

Last year, in my Long Island neighborhood, three young white men were charged with luring immigrant day laborers with promises of work to a secluded area, and then beating them. The young Long Islanders claimed their reason was that these day laborers were illegal immigrants from Latin America, and had no right working here, taking away jobs. A similar conflict occurred in Lewiston, Maine, but on a much larger scale. Ziad Hamzeh’s 75 minute video documentary, THE LETTER keenly covers those events in Lewsiton.

Structured like a narrative feature about the events leading to a violent showdown, THE LETTER first introduces us to the key characters. The first are immigrants from Somalia, a country torn by violence, riots, and poverty. The second is the small town of Lewiston, Maine, whose chief industry for generations were mills outside town. While Lewiston tries to recover from the mills closing down, Somalian immigrants find this often snowed-in community a safe new haven.

At first, tolerance seems to prevail in Lewiston. In fact, a Somali fair, featuring Somali food, proves a hit amongst the Lewiston natives. But, as always, economic woes bring about other trouble. Trouble truly hits when Mayor Larry Raymond writes an open letter to the latest incoming wave of Somali immigrants. The letter advises against new Somali immigrants to the town, that Lewiston has growing economic problems, and very little growth for outsiders. Raymond’s letter can be taken either way. It can be taken like MGM’s old CEO Louis Mayer’s open letter to hopeful starlets coming to Hollywood, a well intended warning that these streets are not paved with gold. Raymond’s letter can also be taken as a well glossed racial slur.

You’ll be shocked, angered and amused all at the same time when you see how Mayor Raymond responds to an upcoming rally that could prove to be Lewiston’s darkest moment. The rally is to be a clash between Somalians, local citizens and a visiting white supremacist group calling itself the World Church of the Creator.

Hamzeh uses film-making techniques action-movie directors use to show the growing tension and arming up of the opposing forces. It feels like GANGS OF NEW YORK acted out by local police and ordinary looking people.

Hamzeh’s main characters look their part. By-the-book, and not too strong Mayor Raymond resembles a business suited Keebler elf. If you saw the World Church’s highly intimidating Reverend Fox on a dark street, you would probably tremble, hand him your wallet, and hope he leaves you alone.

THE LETTER holds your interest, and will surely spark post-screening discussions and debates.

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