UNHCR & YouTube present: We Were Here A powerful original documentary series created by Uncommon & Lief Marks World Refugee Day

YouTube and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced the release of a new film series that showcases the creativity and courage of refugees from three different regions of the world. The series was created and produced by Uncommon Creative Studio in association with Lief. 


The short film series entitled “We Were Here,” which premiered on YouTube on June 20th, World Refugee Day, seeks to challenge stereotypes and perceptions about refugees by connecting refugees with some of YouTube's most influential content creators around shared interests such as music, growing food, and building toys. 


An original format created and produced by Uncommon Creative Studio, in association with Lief, who bring together a team of award-winning filmmakers who give each episode a unique tone and identity. The team behind the project include renowned director Alma Har’el overseeing the series as executive producer (Honey Boy, Bombay Beach), with Oscar nominated director Laura Checkoway (The Cave of Adullam, Edith + Eddie) on board as both series director and the author of one episode. 


The other two episodes are directed by the internationally acclaimed Jordanian director Mahmoud Al Massad (Blessed Benefit), and British-Ghanaian rising star Curtis Essel, while the film scores have been overseen by highly awarded music supervisor Bridget Samuels (Under the Skin, Midsommar. The important job of finding the refugee contributors was undertaken by documentary casting directors and BAFTA nominees Six Minutes. 


The displacement crisis crossed a new mark at the end of 2022, with the total number of people forcibly displaced globally exceeding 108.4 million for the first time. 


For many, the enormity and complexity of the issues can feel overwhelming: it is easy to lose sight of the individuals affected by displacement and see only the scale of the situation. The “We Were Here” series aims to give people an opportunity to identify with individuals by connecting with something we all share - creativity. Refugees have hopes and dreams like anyone else and being able to do what matters most to them has the power to impact the world. 


Through these unexpected connections, these untold stories aim to inspire a new and engaged audience to see refugees in an entirely new light – sparking powerful solidarity with displaced people everywhere.



The Musicians [9’25] Dir. Laura Checkoway:

In a village just outside Stuttgart, chart-topping DJ & Producer Jax Jones meets displaced Ukrainian - Ethiopian sisters Betty, Siona and Miriam, who form hip-hop trio Fo Sho together. Restarting their lives in Germany, they are overcoming creative and personal struggles whilst discovering the healing power of sisterhood and music. Working on a track in the studio together, we learn both artists share a common language searching for belonging.

Watch it on Jax Jones YouTube Channel:

The Toymaker [8’ 20] Dir. Mahmoud al Massad

At Azraq refugee camp, in the middle of the Jordanian desert,  YouTube inventor Simone Giertz meets Mohammad Waheed, a grandfather, retired construction worker and Syrian refugee, known as the camp's toymaker. Together they set out to build a toy helicopter that they hope will fly, along the way overcoming creative and cultural differences to form a deep connection. An uplifting, heartwarming and emotionally-charged film about play and creativity, which also gives a rare insight into life in a remote refugee camp.

Watch it on Simone Giertz YouTube Channel:

The Permaculturist [10’ 11] Dir. Curtis Essel

Spanning Wales, Uganda and Germany, this episode sees vegan chef, permaculture enthusiast, and YouTuber Gaz Oakley meet permaculture expert Bemeriki Dusabe, a Congolese refugee who has been living in a settlement in Uganda for the last 16 years, where he has set up a foundation teaching others how to grow their food - a testament to the incredible strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. A poignant film about self-sufficiency, growth, community and connection.

Watch it on Gaz Oakley’s YouTube Channel:



“Refugees leave so much behind to find safety, but they carry with them their creativity, and we have to work harder to give them the opportunity to pursue their passions. UNHCR is delighted to partner with YouTube to spotlight the creative energy of refugees, and we are privileged that these refugee creators have allowed us to share their stories. We extend our thanks to YouTube and the three content creators for helping bring these experiences to their audiences.”

-         Dominique Hyde, Director of UNHCR’s Division for External Relations


“We are proud to be sharing YouTube’s global platform, and audience reach for World Refugee Day this year. The three YouTube creators have six million subscribers combined who will now have the privilege to be inspired by the powerful stories of refugees and to engage with their imagination, resilience and creativity.”

-         Camilla Hill, YouTube Marketing Director


“Filmmaking has the transformative power to rewrite the representation of refugee voices in film and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to bring together an incredible community of filmmakers to illuminate their stories. What lies within the narratives is an urgency we must now embrace: to restore and create a brighter future for all.”

-        Margo Mars, founder of Lief.


The series will be promoted across cinema, outdoor, and social - the series also includes a beautiful hero icon of a dandelion - a symbol of hope, healing, and resilience - reflecting how the stories of “We Were Here” confront othering and engender solidarity by focusing on what unites us rather than sets us apart - our shared passions. This icon is seen across the design to promote the series as well as playfully interrupting the credit scene of each film.


Watch the Trailer Three Stories of Hope Away From Home II We Were Here: 


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. UNHCR delivers life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.  


About YouTube

YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice and show them the world. YouTube believes that everyone deserves to have a voice, and that the world is a better place when we listen, share and build community through our stories.


About World Refugee Day: 

World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. It falls each year on 20 June and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. This year, World Refugee Day focuses on solutions and the power of inclusion for refugees. The theme is: Hope away from Home: A world where refugees are always included.


About Uncommon Creative Studio: 

instagram @uncommon_ldn


Uncommon is an award-winning multidisciplinary creative studio making films, experiences, and design that people in the real world actually wish existed. 


About Lief

instagram @we.are.lief // twitter @we_are_lief


Lief is a female-led creative content studio, promoting and celebrating inclusivity, creating new culture-defining work with exceptional and uniquely diverse filmmakers. 

Founded by Margo Mars in 2017, Lief is dedicated to making high quality content and providing access to filmmaking talents with an unmistakably individual style. Keen to continue strengthening its reputation for creating short-form content, Lief is bound to continue creating award- winning work, especially under Mars’ watchful and nurturing eye. As one of the most respected and well-known creative producers in the UK, she counts awards from amongst others Cannes Lions, D&AD, Clios, Ciclope, British Arrows and Tribeca X under her belt.

About Alma Har’el

Instagram @alma.harel // twitter: @almaharel


Alma Har’el is an award-winning director who brought to life visionary work in documentary, music videos, TV commercials and scripted narrative. She is also the first woman in DGA Awards history to be nominated for both commercial directing (2018) and narrative directing (2020). Her most recent film, Honey Boy, written by, and starring, Shia LaBeouf, made her the first woman to win the DGA Award for First-Time Feature Film. 
In 2016, Har’el founded her non-profit, Free The Bid, which transformed the global hiring practices of female directors in advertising, and then grew beyond measurable success into FREE THE WORK. FTW advocates for, and showcases, over 2,000 underrepresented filmmakers in 21 countries worldwide.

Har’el’s passion for encouraging equality across entertainment, along with her directing work, landed her in Fast Company’s “Most Creative People of 2018”, Adweek’s “Disruptors of 2018" and on Indiewire’s list of leading "Women Who Made the World of Filmmaking a Better Place."


About Laura Checkoway

instagram @laurachecks


Laura Checkoway is a journalist and filmmaker best known for her documentary, Edith+Eddie, for which she received Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject nomination. Her latest feature The Cave of Adullam premiered at Tribeca in 2022, winning Best Documentary Feature, Best Editing in a Documentary and the 1st Place Audience Award. Her award-winning debut film Lucky screened across the globe.

As a journalist with a background in investigative features and celebrity profiles, Laura is known to skillfully intertwine contemporary social issues with captivating stories of notable personalities. Her passion for poetry and hip-hop translated into cinematic storytelling. With a keen eye for detail and a fascination with psychology, she painted insightful portraits of beloved artists of the time. Noteworthy highlights include accompanying Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, and Rihanna on a journey through Nigeria, and celebrating B.B. King's birthday in his Mississippi Delta hometown during the inauguration of a museum in his honor.





Production Company: Uncommon Creative Studio

In association with Lief

Producer: Shananne Lane, Margo Mars, Rosie Woods

Executive Producer: Alma Har’el, Nils Leonard, Charlie Gatsky Sinclair


Director (for the series): Laura Checkoway


Production Manager: Luke Tilbury, Laura Jenkins

Music Supervisor: Bridget Samuels

Colourist: Yoomin Lee

Colour: Company3

Colour Producer: Kerri Aungle

Post-Production Company: Jam VFX

Online Post Producer: Angus Berryman

Title Design: Uncommon Creative Studio


Production Assistant: Gaaron Clarke

Director Assistant Tally Francis

Director   Assistant: Sasha Nicolas

Junior Researcher: Ethan Elliott


Uncommon Creative Studio

Creative Director: Shaun Savage

Creative: Luke Carlisle

Business Director: Johnny McManus

Legal: Murray Taylor

Head of Production: Goldie Robbens







Contributors: Bemeriki Bisimwa Dusabe, Gaz Oakley

Director: Curtis Essel


Casting Director: Six Minutes

Director of Photography: Henry Gill

Editor: Lucy Berry

Sound Designer: Michael Haines


Uganda Unit

Service Producer: Guy Wilson, Irene Magu

Service Production Company: Ginger Ink Films

1st AC: Lily Gacambi

Digital Imaging Technician: Murtaza Zain

Sound Recordist: Daniel Chu

Boom Operator: Jomo Wilson

Transport Captain: Abdulrahman Shumari

Fixer: Michael Wawuyo

Clearing Agent: Antony Eropu


Wales Unit

1st AC: Ceri Evans

2nd AC: Aaron Eagling-Vose

Digital Imaging Technician: Lewis Williams

Sound Recordist: Geraint Lewis

Unit Driver: Carl Rock


Berlin Unit

Line Producer: Sybella Stevens

Production Manager: Justus Toussaint


1st AC: David Gaiser

2nd AC: Anne Chladek

Gaffer: Sam Gardisi

Sound Recordist: Birte Gerstenkorn

Driver: Ben Lucchesi


Offline Edit: Final Cut

Offline Post Producer: Nikki Porter

Assistant Edito: Ruby Browne

Audio Post-Production: Factory

Audio Producer: Ciara Wakley


Photographer: Christina Nwobugo


Special Thanks To

Rwamwanja Settlement Residents, Rwamwanja Rural Foundation, Amza Kalemire, Rwamwanja Gospel Choir. Hope for People with Disability. Blumental Berlin. Lush Spring Prize, Doug & Juliet Oakley


Extra Special Thanks To

Bemiriki’s Family





Contributors: Fo Sho, Jax Jones

Director: Laura Checkoway


Casting Director: Six Minutes

Music Talent Casting: Simon Micheal Carroll, Susie Lucas at Lucas + Carroll

Additional Casting Research: Rose Waite

Director of Photography: Jaime Ackroyd

Costume Designer: Lauren Groves


Editor: Helena Teixeira

Sound Designer: Rich Martin


Stuttgart Unit

Line Producer: Sonja May & Simon Hebler

1st Assistant Director: Matt Schoemer

1st AC: Julian Roth

2nd AC / DIT: Trung Bui

Sound Recordist: Marcus Vetter

Gaffer: Gert Witilski

Electrician: Tobi Weber

Wardrobe Assistant: Daniela Hochstatter

PA / Driver: Cornelius Frey

PA / Driver : Lorenz Huml

VIP Driver: Matthias Rittgen


Offline Edit: Trim Editing

Offline Post Producer: Polly Kemp


Audio Post-Production: Absolute

Audio Producer: Sian Hagan


Photographer: Myah Jeffers


Music: Fo Sho and Jax Jones


Special Thanks To

Maik Schuheida. Besher Girma Endale, Negash Etetu, Negash Etetu Yayehirad, Oleksandr Maksymliuk, Zoryana the cat. Nicholai Planitzer, John Planitzer, Anna Plantizer, Oleksandr Maksymliuk.





Contributors: Mohammad Waheed Hussein Asaf, Simone Giertz

Director: Mahmoud Al Massad


Casting Director: Six Minutes

Director of Photography: Ahmad Jalboush


Editor: Simon El Habre

Sound Designer: Patch Rowland & Nigel Mannington


Jordan Unit

Producer: Faris Halaseh

Service Production Company: Where To Film

1st AD / Translator: Leen Hamarneh


1st AC: Hussein Qadan

Camera Operator / AC: Amr Khaled

Location Manager: Ahmad Shehdeh

Art Director: Ayoub Nahhas


Sound Recordist: Hussam Sabanekh

DIT: Saif Abu Rabear

Sound Assistant: Bashar Khawaja

Production Assistant: Hamzeh Hamidah

Driver: Rashed Zghool


Additional Editing: Lewis Noll

Assistant Editor: Patil Aynedjian

Audio Post-Production : Machine Sound

Audio Executive Producer: Rebecca Boswell

Audio Producer: Amber Clayton

Audio Assistant: Chas Langston

Translation / Subtitles: Wael Joudeh


Photographer: Emily Garthwaite


Special Thanks To

Meshal Elfayez, Roland Schoenbauer, Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate, Annemarie Jacir.


Extra Special Thanks To

Osama Sabbah

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