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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

We Are All Refugees
By Mat Tombers

Last week, in preparation for a meeting, Dalton Delan, who is my client,
and Jon Alpert, who is probably one of the best cinema verite
producer/directors living, met me for dinner at Capsouto Freres in lower
Manhattan to discuss our strategy for the pitch we were giving the next

Capsouto Freres is a dark, woodsy, clubby, romantic restaurant down in
the warehouse neighborhood that forms the border of the Financial
District from TriBeCa. It was the perfect place to have our discussion.

Jon was just back from Afghanistan, where he had been itching to go
since the day the finger got pointed at Bin Laden and the Taliban boys.

Jon is like that; he has an affinity for trouble spots. He snuck behind
the lines into Iraq in the days of the Gulf War, has faced down a
Central American troop of rebels in the no man's land between El
Salvador and Nicaragua. He has done the things about which movies are
made, all in getting a story. Moments after the first plane hit the
first Tower, Jon was on-site, living as he did beneath the evacuation
zone, shooting and filing free lance reports for CBS.

But he wanted to go to Afghanistan himself, see it for himself.
Somewhere in the last months he met a young Afghan woman who had fled
with her family in front of the Russians, making a tortuous way from
Kandahar to New York City. This is where she lives now, here in New

As the war got underway she joined a group of young Afghanis to raise
money to help her native country. She spoke to crowds. She got dollars
and she decided she would return to Afghanistan to help distribute the
aid - and to find out what had happened to the members of the family
they could not locate since the bombings had begun.

Jon went with her. He made a stunning documentary of her journey for
which he is looking for a television network to air it. The seed money
came from NHK in Japan, which has been a great supporter of Jon's work.
(Not only has he done some great work with his camera, he has devoted
part of his life to giving young people in lower Manhattan an
opportunity to learn video as an art and as a way of making a living.
His Downtown Community Television Center has provided dozens of young
people an opportunity to grow and learn and do.)

This young woman, whose name I cannot pronounce, gathered money and
returned to Afghanistan, all the way to Kandahar to dispense aid and to
find her family, accompanied by a New York documentary maker, a winner
of eleven Emmy Awards, my acquaintance, Jon.

To travel safety they had to buy a platoon of guards from the local
warlord. News team after news team has had the same experience. Safety
in Afghanistan comes at a price, purchased from a local warlord.

In Kandahar, they found that members of her family had fled into the
countryside to escape the inevitable bombing that would come to

They followed, deep into the countryside to find the missing members of
her family only to discover that nineteen of her cousins were dead from
an attack on the village where they had sought refuge. A gunship had
flown in and used its powerful guns on the village, after the Americans
had been told the place was a bastion of the Taliban.
Unfortunately, if there had been Taliban they had fled weeks before.

It is a powerful story. Look for it. From Ground Zero to Ground Zero.

What is poignant about it is that it underscores and punctuates what we
have all known somewhere in our hearts - that the repercussions of the
falling Towers has reached all the way around the world to people who
had no part in plotting the action and, in this particular case, were,
themselves, refugees from the war. It underscored, too, that
Afghanistan is a victim, and is as isolated as almost any place on

Some people there have absolutely no understanding of what is happening.
They neither read nor write, nor have television or radio, tending sheep
as some have done for hundreds of generations.

We talked of where and who would air the program and what to do and say
when in meetings. As we worked, we drank some very nice California
white wine and ate wonderful food, which helped put the pounds back on
Jon that he had lost in the week in Afghanistan.

The restaurant was half full, as most restaurants downtown still are,
and the room had the quiet sound of clattering dishes and talk but it
was much quieter than it should have been, because it was not as busy as
it should have been.

The Capsouto family knows Jon well because he is a regular there and
because Jon works people with his interviewer's skills and opens them up
but he also becomes their friend. He is Jewish from New York and was
embraced by the Afghanis he met and who he filmed, though I didn't ask
him, which I should have, if he had told them he was Jewish.

The family who owns this restaurant are themselves, they hope, at the
end of their refugee journey, a family that started in Turkey, fled to
Egypt and left Egypt for Israel and left Israel for America, a Jewish
family moving around the world, staying together, looking for a place
safe from war.

They find a certain irony; I am sure, in having been beneath the
evacuation line, forced once more by an act of war to move. All of them
seem to face life with a weary certainty. They have seen it before and
they will keep on going.

Sitting there, I realized we are all, we Americans, for the most part
the descendants of refugees of one kind or another. Perhaps that is
what is behind the extraordinary generosity we have had toward other
parts of the world. It is our strength; it is our reality, though one we
forget too often once a generation or two has been born here.

My family came to America because my great-grandparents were forced out
of Germany by their family.

Sitting there in that night that was quieter than it should have been,
listening to Jon and his stories from the front, watching the Capsouto
family interface, it was re-enforced for me that we are all refugees of
one sort or another, we Americans, who seem to so rarely live where we
were born.

It is our blessing, if we embrace it.