a place to breathe


A PLACE TO BREATHE explores the universality of trauma and resilience through the eyes of refugee and immigrant patients and health care providers navigating the medical system. This character-driven feature documentary touches the heart of current debates on immigration and health care at this pivotal moment when these two issues dominate the country’s consciousness.


Rodrigue is a newly arrived refugee from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo who, along with his mother and seven siblings, is struggling to adapt to life in Lowell, Massachusetts. Training to become a medical interpreter at the local community health center, he ultimately aspires to be a social worker to help his community heal from trauma. Socheat, a Cambodian immigrant, seeks tools to combat the stress of supporting her aging parents, teenage daughter, and disabled brother on a manicurist’s salary. The entire family experiences the benefits of meditation classes and culturally tailored wellness approaches at the health center. Sue, a nurse to both families, examines the continued impact of her own traumatic experiences, thriving in the U.S. after surviving the genocide in Cambodia and now supporting others to do the same.

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Across the country in Oakland, California, Edgar and Yania, a young couple from Mexico and Uruguay, provide healing to their community through outreach to day laborers and Spanish-language yoga classes. Their aspirations to become a social worker and a nurse are threatened by possible deportation
due to their tenuous immigration status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). At the same health clinic, Norma, a Guatemalan immigrant, provides interpretation into her community’s indigenous Mayan language, while she watches new arrivals from her homeland fight for asylum and safety.


Common ground and chance connection intertwine these stories as A PLACE TO BREATHE spotlights the profound importance of culturally responsive medicine that joins mental, physical, and spiritual paths to wellbeing. In the midst of an increasingly xenophobic climate, the film humanizes those who have come here, sharing their wisdom and perspectives that enrich and strengthen our communities. As violence destabilizes populations across the country and the world, A PLACE TO BREATHE moves audiences to envision new understandings of wellness for all. The film is currently in production with a scheduled release date in 2018.


Director/Producer Michelle Grace Steinberg and Producer Robyn Bykofsky