Erin Brockovich is the ultimate example of a do-gooder who inspired a film. Sasha Chanoff, the aid organizer and humanitarian who won the 2010 Charles Bronfman Prize, isn't quite at that level, but his activism also gets cinematic representation in the new movie The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon.
Witherspoon plays an employment agency counselor assigned to assist Sudanese refugees, some of the famous "Lost Boys" who walked as many as a thousand miles across Africa to escape civil war, immigrating from a camp to Kansas City. The character who plays Chanoff makes his appearance before they leave the camp; he's a teacher trying to give the boys tips about what their new lives will be like. In one lesson, he hands around a chunk of something white, cold and wet.
"This is called ice," the actor says. "This is what winter in America feels like."
Chanoff is the co-founder and executive director of RefugePoint, an organization that identifies endangered people, often African children, and resettles them or provides other assistance. In humanitarian circles, he is known for his insistence that resettlement is a better outcome for refugees than camps. He also worked as a consultant on the film.
Born in Finland and educated in the United States, Chanoff is the great-grandson of Jews who fled from Russian pogroms. He also lost family in the Holocaust.
"Refugees are on their own, but not by choice. And a lot of people, Jews in particular, have faced this for centuries," Chanoff told the Boston Globe in 2010.