"Mentor," a documentary by Alix Lambert, explores multiple teen suicides in Mentor, Ohio, revealing the consequences of bullying. Pictured here is Sladjana Vidovic. (Daily Pilot / April 28, 2014)

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The Los Angeles resident produced and directed "Welcome Nowhere," an 80-minute documentary that investigates the lives of the impoverished and maligned Roma community in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Ryan, who attended film school at Cal State Northridge, visited the Eastern European area thrice along with a humanitarian organization called Global Celebration. Immediately, she was struck by the living conditions of nearly 200 "gypsies" squeezed into 29 boxcars.

"The segregation was fascinating because they typically don't mix with non-Roma," she said. "The film was my way of answering questions like 'Is it by choice, or are they being forced to live like this?' and 'Why do people hate them so much?' It was sort of my own research project, as I wanted to have answers not only for myself but to also educate other people."

"Welcome Nowhere" sheds light on the underbelly of Bulgarian society, where dirt and grime stain children's faces and once-precious toys lie face-down in puddles of mud. It doesn't shy away from showing how the Roma live without sewage pipes, septic tanks, running water or paved streets, while families of five subsist on $65 a week.

According to Ethan Hawke, the film's narrator, an estimated 12 million Roma inhabit pockets of Europe and, despite migrating from India in the 12th and 13th centuries, continue to be the poorest, least educated and most mistrusted ethnic minority. Their life expectancy is nearly a decade less than other local populations, while their birth rate is three times higher and male members of this group make a living by digging through trash to collect and, then, sell metal.

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'A centuries-old issue'

Ryan's project focuses on a group in the city of Lyulin and explains, with help of interviews with former and current politicians, activists and pastors, that they were forcibly evicted from government-owned apartments to make space for Billa, a popular department store. Although relocated to dilapidated boxcars — held together by tarp, rope and a prayer — for a proposed six months, the Roma had shared one tap with which to bathe, brush their teeth, wash clothes and cook for nearly 10 years at the time of filming.

Deeply impacted by the knowledge that Roma children fall sick with alarming regularity due to their unsanitary surroundings, Ryan said they also frequently miss school, dreaming of karate, magic and driving horse-drawn carriages as career options, since their parents lack the resources to buy them shoes, books and bags.

"This is a centuries-old issue as well as one that is not going to clear up any time soon," she said. "And yet, the victims of this racism, prejudice and continued systemic marginalization are the next generation. The kids have grown up around this poverty, playing amid fire and glass, and they don't even seem to notice it — that was the most heartbreaking thing."

Funding the entire film herself, Ryan, who used a Panasonic HVX 200, first spent two years earning money for her travels. She slowed down after returning stateside in 2009 to once again earn money for post-production duties. Although "Welcome Nowhere" premiered in London last September, she heard about the Newport festival through her friends Adam and Jaye Fenderson, whose documentary "First Generation" was shown in 2012, and expressed barely contained excitement about her upcoming screening at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

"I think that both of these films demonstrate how important documentaries are for allowing us to begin to understand, or at least consider, the lives of people who may be quite different from ourselves," Cummins remarked. "We can get so busy and isolated in our own lives that we don't see, or don't even care about, what's going on in the lives of other people."

If You Go

What: "Mentor"

Where: Triangle Square Cinemas, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa

When: 5 p.m. Monday

Cost: $14

Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com

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What: "Welcome Nowhere"

Where: Triangle Square Cinemas, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Cost: $14

Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com