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"If you have experienced gunfire before but not fireworks, then they have a very different meaning to you."
So Ms Paterson (40) used this experience to inspire her short film Run Rabbit, which will tour the country with some of the world’s best as part of the Show Me Shorts Film Festival.
The former Columba College pupil moved to Dunedin with her family when she was 12.
She found adapting difficult due to "differences in life experiences".
"If you have grown up in a situation where you have witnessed people being killed, or lost friends who are close, your cultural touchstones are very different."
For her film, she chose to focus on the refugee experience of growing up in a small New Zealand town.
For this she picked the setting of Alexandra, where she spent a lot of time when she was growing up.
She wrote it at the "height" of the Syrian crisis during which time there was some discussion about housing refugees in the regions of New Zealand.
"I started thinking about what that might be like."
The film features former Iranian refugee Saman Tehrani and former Syrian refugee Ram Al Laham, who now live in Auckland and Wellington respectively.
Ms Paterson’s experiences were a starting point for a script which was then workshopped with the two actors.She now works in television and film in Auckland.
The film festival features 50 short films from New Zealand and abroad.
It was "wonderful" to be involved, she said.
The short film will play in Dunedin at Rialto Cinemas on October 28 as part of a sampler of the festival.