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Ledyard native Beth Murphy screens her documentary "The List"

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published February 21. 2013 4:00AM

It's a comparison that surfaces repeatedly: Kirk Johnson has often been described as a modern-day Oskar Schindler.

Johnson led reconstruction teams in Iraq after the war. He realized that, once American forces left, the Iraqis who helped the U.S. have ended up in very real danger. They have been targeted by terrorists for having aided the U.S. Some have been killed. Some have been kidnapped.

Feeling the U.S. government hasn't been doing enough to help get them out, Johnson stepped in. He created a list of these imperiled Iraqis who were seeking refuge and founded an organization called The List Project to assist.

He brought in more than 200 pro bono attorneys to help.

It's the first time in the history of refugee resettlement that refugees had access to legal counsel.

It's also the largest pro bono legal effort in the U.S.

Ledyard native Beth Murphy, a documentary director and producer, met Johnson in 2007. Less than a month later, Murhy began shooting a documentary about his work - compelled by the subject matter to start right then, despite what was going on in her personal life.

"It was four days after my daughter was born. I got on a plane and went to Chicago for the first shoot," Murphy says. "I tell you that because I believe and I continue to believe so much in this story and the need to tell it that there was no question that, even though it was not the best timing, that it needed to happen and I needed to be there for the shoot."

"The List," which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2012, will be screened for the public Friday at Norwich Free Academy. Murphy will be there as well, to talk at that session as well as earlier to students.

Murphy grew up in Gales Ferry and started out working in radio news. She became WSUB's news director at age 19, making her the youngest news director at the time. She moved on to a station in Hartford and eventually to grad school at George Washington University and into TV news.

When working in TV, she recalls, "I found myself wanting to do longer and longer format pieces and wanting to focus more on international topics that really spoke to who America is in the world and how we operate and what that means to us as a country."

That led her to start her own company, the Boston-based independent film company Principle Pictures, and to do documentaries full-time.

Murphy and her crew filmed "The List" in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, as well as in a lot of places across the U.S. They had to be careful when interviewing people still living in Iraqi so as not to endanger them further.

The situation there, she says, "is horrific. They face - I mean, we have video of beheadings, they're being sold at markets, they're used as an example: you work for the U.S., this is what will happen to you. These people are being made an example of. They themselves are kidnapped, raped, shot, stabbed, burned to death. These types of things happen to their family members as well."

Johnson's organization has helped more than a thousand Iraqi allies, but there remains a lack of strong government response in Washington.

"There's no political will to try to help this population. No politician is going to get ahead by helping an Iraqi," Murphy says. "And the anti-Muslim sentiment is still high in America."

A friend of Murphy's - Jason Rosen, who is an art teacher at NFA - approached her about coming to NFA with "The List."

All the educational efforts being done in conjunction with "The List" comes naturally to Murphy. Both of her parents were teachers. Her late father, Howard Brundage, was the department chair of music for two decades at New London High School. Her mother, Mary Brundage, taught English; she was department chair at Bennie Dover Middle School and principal of the Solomon Schechter Academy before co-founding the private Academy of St. Therese in Gales Ferry.

Murphy says her parents taught her "this excitement about learning, this appreciation for what you don't know. ... That lifelong love of learning was something they lived themselves."

"The List," 6:03 p.m. Friday, Slater Auditorium, Norwich Free Academy, 305 Broadway, Norwich; director/producer Beth Murphy will speak and answer questions; free; principlepictures.com.

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