For much of the past five years, Lompoc native Jennifer Salcido has been embedded in the Middle East with an up-close view of a situation that many Americans would rather not think about.
Salcido first moved to Iraq in 2012 to teach, and then a short time later became involved in providing humanitarian aid within the war-torn region. In an effort to spread awareness about the issues being faced by refugees and other victims of terrorism in the area, Salcido helped assemble a team that produced the documentary film “The Longest Road.”
Salcido, who co-directed with Orange County resident Matthew Charles Hall, attended several screenings for the movie throughout the U.S. and abroad since its 2016 release on the film festival circuit.
This Veterans Day, she will return home for a deeply personal film screening — one in which she hopes to continue spreading awareness, while also raising funds both for those people still engulfed in war and terrorism in Iraq and also for the veterans back in her hometown.
“The Longest Road,” which spotlights the plight of displaced people who escaped terrorist regimes led by ISIS, will be screened during a special event at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lompoc’s Trinity Church of the Nazarene, 500 E. North Ave. That screening will be followed by a reception at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building, at 100 E. Locust Ave., which will include wine and beer tasting, silent auctions and a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers.
Salcido said the date of the event was not a coincidence.
“We wanted to honor our veterans for their sacrifice and what they’ve done and what they’ve given for the religious freedoms and liberties for people in other countries,” she said. “Obviously, I feel like Nov. 11 is the best time to honor them. I want this event to be about them, too — about our local veterans.”
Tickets for the event are on sale for $35. The price includes a seat to view the documentary, as well as entry into the reception at the Vets Building. They can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com/e/the-longest-road-santa-barbara-county-screening-tickets-37856071529.
The proceeds from the ticket sales will be split evenly, with half going toward local veteran services and the other half going to the refugee organization featured in the film, she said.
“We’re pretty excited,” Salcido said. “It’s our second to last screening.”
The movie has seemed to have made an impression, she said, on most of those who have seen it during its many showings at festivals and events throughout Europe, India, Canada and the U.S.
“Everywhere we go and screen, people’s reactions are always the same: It’s shocking, it hurts them, they feel compassion and it also educates them,” Salcido said. “A lot of people know kind of what’s going on in the Middle East, but many of them don’t know to what extremes and they don’t know who these victims are, so it is raising awareness.”
For at least one of the humanitarians featured in the film, the hope is that the awareness will soon translate into donations and, ultimately, change.
Dr. Nemam Ghafouri is a volunteer doctor from Sweden and founder of the nonprofit organization Joint Help for Kurdistan (JHK). She and her team have been helping refugees and others affected by ISIS in Kurdistan since 2014.
Their goal, through JHK, is to continue providing aid in the region to victims of terrorism, many of whom have had their families torn apart and displaced and some of whom have been trafficked as sex slaves, and to build an education center to be utilized by refugee children upon returning to their homes.
Ghafouri said “The Longest Road” accurately portrayed some of the horrors that are taking place around her, and she noted that “I don’t call it a movie anymore, because it’s like a movement.”
“Wherever it goes, it spreads awareness of what has happened and what’s going on and how the lives of innocent people and voiceless people have been affected by an unwanted war — a war that is not their war, but is others’ war that has been brought to their homes and taken everything away from them,” she said.
“Especially in the U.S., people think, ‘This is their war. The war is over there, it’s not our problem,’” she added. “Actually, it is their problem because at the end of the day, the big powers fight in others’ land. … It’s best for people to have a better idea of what’s going on outside their homes in order to be safer at home.”
Ghafouri opined that political actions, or inactions, from the U.S. are making the problems worse. She pointed to a seeming lack of concern from Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump as only helping to widen divisions in the region and embolden those who are committing acts of terror.
Still, she said she’s hopeful that humanity will prevail and that, with donations from viewers of the film and others around the world, her JHK organization, which has a base in the U.S., will be able to develop its educational center and other programs for refugees as they return to their homes.
She’s hopeful that the film will be able to help this “long-term solution” become a reality and that more viewers will look to assist.
“The aim is to do fundraising through this,” Ghafouri said of the movie. “Whoever has come and seen the movie has really been moved by it and touched by it and they come out with tears running down their face, and everybody is asking how they can help. We have told people they can donate to help build this education center, and unfortunately the response has been almost zero.”
Help in that area could be on the way, as Salcido noted the film will soon be available to a much wider audience.
At some point before the end of the year, she said, “The Longest Road” will be added to the list of documentaries available for rent, purchase and streaming on Amazon’s Prime service.
“All the funds, once the movie is up on Amazon, will go toward relief aid in the Middle East for refugee children,” Salcido said.
As for Saturday, Salcido said she’s anxiously hoping for a large turnout. There is room for 300 people at the screening, and the capacity for the reception will be 400.
Salcido, who gained notoriety in the Lompoc Valley when she was crowned the 2004 Flower Festival Queen as an 18-year-old, said she’s expecting that a lot of her friends and family will be there, and she’s hopeful that many military members and veterans in the area will also attend.
Parts of the film were shot in Lompoc, and there is a special message to veterans at the end of the film, she noted.
“I would like our local veterans to know that we’re honoring them.”
For more on JHK, visit www.facebook.com/JointHelpKurdistan/. The Veterans Day screening and reception are being sponsored by the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 125.