Sat Apr 13, 2024 – 12:00 pm | Beloit College Powerhouse
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In ULTIMATE CITIZENS, Jamshid is an Iranian who came to study in 1970’s America, and due to the Revolution, never went “home.” As a guidance counselor in Seattle Public Schools, Jamshid’s best work takes place out of the building and on a playing field with “his kids,” the children of refugees and immigrants. Their parents are in the grips of their own struggles to make a living and a home in a strange land. Mr. Jamshid is the charismatic, fiery, funny human with a Frisbee in hand, who is the first to show that “love wins” on the field, off the field, at home with family, or boldly forging a new community, in a new country – one kid, chicken, extreme mile and friend at a time.
ULTIMATE CITIZENS is not a movie about Frisbee. The “flat ball” is one of many tools that Jamshid Khajavi, the film’s protagonist, uses in his work as a primary school coach and counselor. A fiery, funny 65-year-old Iranian immigrant and ultra-athlete, Jamshid does some of his best work on the playing field with his students, the children of refugees and immigrants.
In a season of healing, Jamshid coaches two intrepid 11-year-olds, Nyahoak, whose South Sudanese parents came to the U.S. as refugees, and Pio, whose Samoan parents wanted a better a life, but experience homelessness. Jamshid teaches the kids about life on their way to compete in the world’s largest youth Ultimate Frisbee tournament.
The story unfolds at Hazel Wolf K-8 School in Seattle, a city known for its high-tech companies and $7 coffees. It’s also an America where many families quietly struggle to afford housing and survive.
Jamshid’s efforts to build community where all kids can thrive are intimate and heroic. In this story, it’s the parents who work low paying jobs around the clock, and their first-generation Americans kids, who become champions long before the tournament even begins. They save themselves, with a little help from a compassionate counselor in a supportive school.
At a time when schools are on the frontlines of America’s culture wars, some politicians and parents are fighting the work of counselors like Jamshid. He teaches social emotional learning and sex education. He talks with families about grief and loss, and helps remove barriers to learning and belonging.
Today there are roughly 100 million forcibly displaced people around the world – more than at any time in modern history. The plight of these asylum seekers is increasingly met with anti-immigrant policies and violence. This film showcases the potential of what immigrants like Jamshid and his students can bring into our communities instead of viewing asylum seekers as a drain on resources.
Underneath the “David vs. Goliath” tournament narrative that builds toward the film’s climax, this documentary offers an antidote to “us versus them” political headlines with a heartwarming vision of a more welcoming America. You often hear Jamshid saying to people, “I’m so glad you’re here,” and he means it. For almost 40 years, Jamshid has taught children how to be “ultimate citizens” – to look out for themselves and each other, and to choose inclusion over exclusion. He and the kids show how to do the hardest work of all – to find their way forward, together.
Francine’s Strickwerda’s award-winning independent feature documentaries, including “Oil & Water,” and “Busting Out” have screened on Showtime, PBS, Netflix, Amazon and television channels all over the world. With stories ranging from one of the world’s worst toxic disasters, to the politics of America’s breast obsession, and now immigrant kids winning at Ultimate Frisbee, her films explore power, trauma and healing. Francine’s work has been funded by MacArthur Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Chicken & Egg Pictures, and many others. As co-owner of Seattle creative video agency Hullabaloo, she directs, produces and writes strategic films for some of the world’s most recognizable brands and non-profits. Francine grew up a teacher’s kid and began her career in journalism, first as a newspaper reporter, and then as a producer at Seattle’s KCTS Public Television. She has a 12-year-old son and is an avid Salish Sea open water swimmer.