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Mainers cheer film about Somalis' arrival

LEWISTON, Maine -- A documentary about how Maine's second-largest city coped with an influx of Somali immigrants received a standing ovation after its first showing in the state Saturday night.

"The Letter," which was produced and directed by Ziad Hamzeh, received critical praise after it premiered in Los Angeles in November. Its first Maine showing was at the Lewiston Middle School auditorium.

The 75-minute-long movie's title refers to a letter former Lewiston mayor Larry Raymond sent to the Somalian people who had settled in the city, asking them to spread the word that Lewiston's social services couldn't handle any more immigrants.

The film tracks the Somalis' flight from their homeland and resettlement in Maine. After Raymond's letter, a white supremacist group held a gathering in Lewiston that drew more than 400 antiracism demonstrators.

During the earlier portion of the movie, the audience buzzed as viewers recognized friends or neighbors. But soon its intensity took hold as racist quotes were countered by antiracist quotes.

In the film's final moments, city Administrator Jim Bennett breathes a sigh of relief after a white supremacist rally on Jan. 11, 2002, ended without violence. The film's climax brought the audience to its feet.

Former Lewiston mayor John Jenkins, who spoke in many scenes throughout the film, said after the film's end that the documentary "gives one hope that we are, in fact, a better community and will remain ever steadfast and working at it." Hamzeh, the film's producer and director, said in a brief statement to the audience that he considers Lewiston to be his second home.

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