Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, coinciding with the anniversaries of independence of several countries including México, Chile and Guatemala. New Day offers an excellent collection of films that tell powerful stories from these countries, and celebrate the contributions
of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States. Stages: Intergenerational Theater on the Lower East Side follows a group of older Puerto Rican women as they work with urban youth to create a play out of the stories of their lives, while Abrazos tracks the transformational journey of a group of U.S. children who travel 3,000 miles from Minnesota to Guatemala to visit their parents’ homeland.
October also brings the opportunity to focus on our communities with two more special commemorations. National Community Planning Month honors the role of planners and planning in our communities. New Days films Land of Opportunity and Made In Brooklyn both take a look at the impact of planning in cities like New Orleans, Durham, Albuquerque, Burlington and New York.
National Disability Awareness Month is a time to educate about disability issues and to celebrate the contributions of Americans with disabilities. In The Key of G, we learn about a uniquely successful model of supported living for people with physical and developmental disabilities. In Sins Invalid, a film and performance project conceived and led by disabled people of color, normative paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.
At a time when Europe is reeling from record numbers of refugees, renewed attention has been cast on the issue of migration. The term “refugee” has come to encompass individuals fleeing environmental change, food insecurity, and generalized violence—such as Syrian civilians fleeing drought and the onslaught of ISIS. Those who fall outside the internationally recognized definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations are termed “survival migrants.” Many of the other Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian immigrants featured nightly on our television screens fall under this category. They are running for their lives, seeking to find a new home where they can become productive citizens and raise their children safely.
New Day Films hosts a collection of films that address the issue of survival migration into the United States, especially from the viewpoint of those most impacted: the children. The feature-length documentaryAbrazos follows the transformational journey of 14 children of undocumented immigrants as they travel to Guatemala for the first time to meet their grandparents and other family members. Their journey highlights the plight of 4.5 million children living in mixed legal status families. Director Luis Argueta was moved to capture this epic experience, noting:
In the process of filming several of my most recent documentaries, I have witnessed the negative consequences of family separation which is caused by a broken immigration system. The ones most affected by the separation are the children.
Sin Pais is an award-winning documentary short that attempts to break through mainstream media’s “talking points” approach to immigration by focusing on the intimate experiences of one family. In the early 90s, Sam and Elida Mejia fled a violent civil war in Guatemala. 17 years later, they have built a new life for themselves and their three children in the San Francisco Bay Area. When immigration agents storm their home in search of another person, however, their lives are torn apart. Sam, Elida, and their oldest son Gilbert are all undocumented and become deeply entangled in the U.S. immigration system. Commenting on the experiences of the Mejia family, filmmaker Theo Rigby writes:
Every parent has the responsibility to clothe, house, and educate his or her children. Most immigrants want to provide a better life for their families than the one that they were dealt in their home country. This translates to immigrants being incredibly hard workers and very innovative. More than half of small businesses in the U.S. were started by immigrants, as well as some of the largest businesses.
Documentary shortLife On The Line tells the story of teenager Kimberly Torrez who lives on the Arizona-Mexico border in a mixed legal status family. Co-directing team Sally Rubin and Jen Giloman set about making a film that would bolster the fight for comprehensive immigration reform and highlight the plight of children and their families who are divided by state and national policies. Filmmaker Sally Rubin explains:
Told entirely from Kimberly’s perspective, our film attempts to draw out themes of socioeconomic adversity, the universal challenges of adolescence, the pursuit of opportunity in our education system, and the real-life effects of immigration policies on the ability of students to succeed.
One of New Day’s earliest films featuring children caught up in the immigration debate is Children in No Man’s Land, a short documentary about two young children, Maria de Jesus and her cousin Rene, who attempt to cross the US/Mexico border by themselves to reunite with their mothers in the Midwest. Filmmaker Anayansi Prado was deeply impacted by the stories she heard of unaccompanied children making the dangerous crossing over the border and wanted to put a human face to the crisis. She writes:
I wanted to understand and convey the struggles of a family separated by necessity and the children’s urges for embarking on such a risk journey. What I found out is that at their core they are not that much different than any of us. They are just families who want to be together and will risk it all to survive and have a chance at a better life.
I Learn America is a feature-length documentary set in International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to teaching newly arrived immigrant teenagers from more than 50 countries. Co-directors Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng follow five diverse students over the course of a tumultuous senior year to illuminate the broader issues of how the education system and community groups can work together to embrace students in the USA who are first-generation immigrants. Ultimately, the unique learning environment fostered at International High School at Lafayette provides a blueprint for how other schools and society at large can help to support America’s newest arrivals and provide them a path to realizing their dreams. Filmmaker Jean-Michel Dissard writes:
Today, a quarter of our nation’s children are immigrants or the children of immigrants and nearly one third of our population under the age of 34 fits this demographic. How we fare in welcoming these children will determine the nature of America’s continually emerging identity.
To learn more about New Day’s films on immigration, please click here.
New Day Filmmakers have been busy breaking ground in August! On August 4, our very own Luis Arguetawas awarded the Order of Quetzal following the premiere of his latest documentary ABRAZOS in Guatemala City. Argueta, whose 1994 fiction film The Silence of Neto set a precedent in the Guatemalan film industry, became the first-ever filmmaker to receive Guatemala’s highest national medal for his passionate stories about migrants. In a moving acceptance speech, Argueta said “I dedicate this award to the millions of migrants who’ve left their homes, risked everything and who toil every day without knowing if they will return home that night.” Learn more about his important works abUSed: The Postville Raidand ABRAZOS.
And on August 13, New Day filmmaker David Alvarado and filmmaking partner Jason Sussberg made history when their documentary-in-progress on Bill Nye the Science Guy became the highest grossing documentary ever on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. With an initial goal of $650,000, their campaign raised nearly $860,000 thanks to the help of 16,850 backers. Their new film follows Bill Nye the Science Guy, host of the popular children’s science show, in his “epic quest to change the world.” Both filmmakers cite Bill Nye as a large influence in their decision to start making films about science and technology. Learn more about Alvarado’s previous short film Indelible Mark.
Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. New Day has a wide range of award-winning films on Latinos in the US and beyond, including two new titles: Abrazos, a feature documentary about the children of undocumented Guatemalan immigrants visiting their parents’ homeland for the first time, and Life on the Line, a short film about a girl coming of age along the US-Mexico border.