Q and A with "Papers" Filmmakers on DREAMing Big

November 30, 2010

Imagine that you were a model student and active member of your community but upon graduating high school couldn’t work, drive, apply for
a state ID, or get on an airplane. Imagine that you couldn’t accept the college
scholarships that you had been awarded and you lived in constant
fear of being deported from the only home you’ve ever known to a country you
don’t remember, where you know no one, and don’t even speak the language.

There are approximately 2 million undocumented children who were born
outside the U.S. and raised in this country. They attended American schools, hold American values and know only the U.S. as home. Yet when they graduate, they find the door to their future slammed shut. Pending
legislation called the DREAM Act is their only hope. First
introduced in 2001 and re-introduced in March 2009, the DREAM Act would provide a path to
citizenship for undocumented youth who attend college or join the military.

The challenges these students face are brought to light in “Papers:
Stories of Undocumented Youth
,” a feature-length documentary chronicling
one of the most critical civil rights struggles of our time. The film premiered in 2010 in nearly 50 states at more than 500 venues and is now for sale on DVD. (Find out more online.)

Here's what director Anne Galisky and producer Rebecca Shine of Portland, Oregon’s Graham Street Productions, had to say about the film.

Q: What first drew you to this story?

A: About six years ago, we both began tutoring and mentoring immigrant youth who
were at risk of dropping out of high school in Portland, Oregon. Even though we knew a
lot about challenges facing at-risk youth, we were dismayed by the extra obstacles that
stood in the way of some of these young people because of their lack of “papers.” That
in turn made us painfully aware of the bigger picture: how much our nation is losing by
keeping laws in place that bar millions of children from pursuing their dreams and
realizing their potential.

Most of all, we grew to love each of these young people and began wondering how we
could help them fight the injustice of their circumstances. We came to believe that
making a film would be a great way to help other people meet these extraordinary
youth, understand their stories, and hopefully begin to relate to them in a new way. As
the idea grew, our group of willing participants grew and evolved into a crew that came
to be called El Grupo Juvenil, young people from across the US who wanted to help
undocumented youth tell their own stories to a national audience.

Then, in the fall of 2007, two things happened. First, the DREAM Act failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Second, Oregon’s Governor, Ted Kulongoski issued an
Executive Order changing state law to require that all applicants for state IDs or drivers
licenses have Social Security numbers. Both of these events took a terrible toll on the immigrant youth we worked with, and gave us the impetus to start the production of “Papers.”

Q: Why don’t you show the other side of the debate?
 

A: We spend the first three minutes of the film, without dialogue, showing images from both pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant marches and rallies to remind audiences of the
extremely polarized and vitriolic debate that surrounds these young people every day.
We also interviewed over 150 people from across the country who were both in favor of
and against immigration reform, and conducted many interviews at the Democratic and
Republican National Conventions in the summer of 2008.

However, as we continued to film, we realized how rare it is to hear directly from undocumented students and how common it is to hear anti-immigrant and antiimmigration-reform voices, so we decided to emphasize the students’ stories first and
foremost. There’s no arguing with someone’s personal experience and this is the story
that is so often overlooked – how do undocumented immigrant youth feel and what do
they think about their situation? Politicians, teachers, and community leaders provide
the historical, cultural, and political context to the youths’ stories.

Meet the Main Characters

Q: How did you find the students? Isn’t it dangerous for them to appear in the film?

A: We interviewed dozens of undocumented youth across the country. Some we already knew from our work as mentors and advocates, and others were introduced to
us as we traveled. Still others heard about the project and contacted us to share their
stories. Over the course of a year we identified the five main characters, each of whom
was willing to sacrifice anonymity to appear on film, had come from different countries under widely varying circumstances, and who had unique personalities, dreams and
struggles.

Each of the main characters: Monica, Yo Sub, Juan Carlos, Simone, and Jorge, had the awareness that telling their stories would encourage other people to become more public about who they are. And we have seen that this is in fact true: at many
screenings of the film across the country, young people are “stepping out of the
shadows” and, sometimes for the first time, declaring their immigration status openly.
And yes, it does pose risks to publicly declare your undocumented status, so we were very careful to respect each of the students’ choices about their level of exposure.

Simone, for example, made the choice to only show her eyes in order to protect her safety and privacy. Her choice demonstrates the fear that millions of kids currently live
with every day, and emphasizes the huge risk a handful of them are taking by telling
their stories.

Despite a recent NY Times article about the Obama administration not prioritizing the deportation of undocumented students, no one knows when the political winds could
shift and each of the students is still legally at risk of arrest, detention and deportation
at any time.

Q: What is happening in the lives of your main characters today?
 

A: Jorge recently completed a 14-day hunger strike in front of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Los Angeles office, the latest step in his overall choice to be more public about his immigration status. His personal hope is to convince a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to support the DREAM Act and then he will move on to pursue a graduate
degree in African American literature.

Monica lives with her husband and works in elder care. Her family remains split
between the U.S and Guatemala while her father’s 19-year-long asylum case is still
pending.

Juan Carlos struggles with his limited choices now that he has graduated from high
school. He feels that his dreams are on hold until the DREAM Act passes so he advocates for its passage while continuing to try to be a role model for young people in his community.

Simone finished her Associates Degree and wants desperately to contribute to the country she calls home. She worries about her little brother and tries to keep up his
hopes so that he will think that it is worthwhile to stay in school.

Yo Sub is getting ready to start his second year of college and is majoring in Economics. He loves college life and is thriving academically as could be expected of
someone who graduated high school with a 4.5 GPA. What happens after graduation
will depend on whether the DREAM Act or comprehensive immigration reform passes
by then.

Q: What has changed in the DREAM Act movement since the film’s release?

A: The good news is that momentum is building behind the DREAM Act and it is becoming better known and more widely supported. DREAMers have begun to
deliberately draw inspiration from the civil rights movement and the gay rights
movement, both in terms of messaging and tactics, which has added a historical
dimension to their work that not only adds a great deal strategically, but inspires them and others to see themselves in that proud, and ultimately triumphant, historical
context.
They are taking some enormous risks like conducting hunger strikes in New York and
Los Angeles, walking from Miami to Washington, DC, taking part in civil disobedience
actions including staging sit-ins at Congressional offices, and marching on Capitol Hill.
Mostly, they are going public and telling their stories and the American people are
starting to listen. President Obama is in support of the DREAM Act and Senate Majority
leader Harry Reid has expressed a willingness to bring the DREAM Act forward this fall.

Even in an era of rare bipartisan cooperation, both Democrats and Republicans are cosponsors
and proponents of this legislation.
Someday soon we hope to look back on this as an extraordinary time in the history of
the immigrant rights movement. We are thrilled to have been able to both chronicle the
movement and to support its expansion and public support through “Papers.”

Q: You make strong connections between the LGBTQ rights movement and the immigration rights movement in the film. Can you explain how they are linked?
 

A: One of the main characters in “Papers,” Jorge, is both undocumented and queer. He
likens his experience to living at two borders at the same time. In fact, as we were
working on the film, we found that a large proportion of the young people who are
leading the movement and going public about their status as undocumented (they call it "coming out") also identify as queer or LGBTQ.

 

 

 


About the Filmmakers

Anne Galisky is the Director of “Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth” and a
co-founder of Graham Street Productions in Portland, Oregon. She holds a
Masters degree in History and her research on the Japanese Internment during
WWII is included in the Internment Memorial at the Expo Center in Portland,
Oregon. ! Anne also founded and has operated Small World Builders, a building
construction company, for the past fifteen years.

Rebecca Shine is the Producer of “Papers” and a co-founder of Graham Street Productions. Her passion for literature and the art of storytelling drew her to
documentary film production. Before producing "Papers," Rebecca provided
consulting services to non-profits, schools and public agencies in the areas of
economic development, social services and youth leadership. She has mentored
many young people, including a number of undocumented youth. Her passion
for social and economic justice, matched by her love of storytelling, inspired her
to bring the stories of immigrant youth to light.


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You can also see the official movie trailer at: http://papersthemovie.com/about_papers/trailer.html