Ask a Filmmaker: An Unfinished Dream

My thesis project, Untitled DREAM Act Film, is transitioning from casual pre-production to real pre-production. What does that mean? It means that it’s time to stop playing around and start working on this film. One way that I thought of to do this was to talk to someone who has done or is doing what I’m about to set out to do.

Margarita Reyes is a University of California Los Angeles student studying Chicano Studies. She’s collaborating with UCLA film minor, Andrea Ortega, on An Unfinished Dream, a social justice documentary following the lives of undocumented students in the California university system. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

MC – What drew you to the topic of the DREAM Act?

MR – Last year I met “B”, who, like myself, was a UCLA transfer student.
Several weeks into my first classes with her, I found out “B” was an
undocumented student and was not going to be able to pay for her tuition fees.
“B” did not choose to come to the United States as a 4-year-old. That decision was made for her.

“B” and I have shared our family histories and found that there
were many similarities. The only difference being that I was born in the United
States, and she was not. I don't feel like she should be treated as though
she is invisible because of her immigration status. She is one of the kindest,
most loyal, and hard working people I know. She is an academic overachiever, a volunteer and she is currently organizing other undocumented workers to form unions in her community.

I am proud to call her my friend and she has inspired me to produce this
documentary in order to tell her story.

AO – The DREAM students, as they have come to be called, attend school like other students but have to overcome an extraordinary amount of obstacles to accomplish their higher education. While the CA DREAM Act benefits a student whether he/she is a citizen or undocumented, the undocumented students show their commitment for education as they endure commuting for 2-3 hrs on bus to get to school, working three jobs to pay for college and on top of that not enjoying benefits that other students receive such as studying abroad, doing research or having a paid internship.

As a Mexican-American first generation female of a low-income family, I already struggle to pay for my university, but to see the DREAM students persevere despite not getting that financial aid that I need to pay for college, is an admirable quality when on top of that they are able to find a manner in which to advocate for themselves. Most of them are the valedictorians, class presidents and top students coming from their high schools who have so much potential and talent to offer our society, yet there is currently no outlet, because after all the hard work they place into acquiring their degrees they are still not allowed to give back to the community as they wish to.

I have found inspirations through students that with so much less than me have
made it to the university and are fighting for others who should not have to go
through what they went through. They have strengthened my resolve to
help those less fortunate and shown me how privileged I have been throughout my
life.

MC – Why did you chose documentary to explore the topic?

MR – We chose documentary because we wanted to show the human face of the issue.
These are human beings, like you and I, who are experiencing an apartheid
situation. They should not be treated as second-class citizens. They are
amazing, overachieving, hard-working, upstanding citizens of the world who only
seek to contribute to the country they call home.

AO – A documentary can give a more organic perspective and it humanizes the issue by showing you reality. This documentary is being made with care so that you can see the true identity of undocumented students and recognize them as the neighbors and friends you have always known as opposed to the stereotyped representation you may hear or read about in newspapers and such. There are just so many layers and angles in the lives of these students that only a documentary can capture.

We want the audience to truly understand and see how dedicated these students are to getting their higher education and just how hard they work to accomplish it. Truly it is the students creating the story and the documentary the tool to which the rest of the world is able to engage in that story. That is what is so great about documentaries is their ability to tell reality to a mass audience in an enticing manner.

MC – How have you dealt with any legal obstacles that have risen around the
status of the characters in your film?

MR – Here’s the catch, when a student goes to a California university or college
they sign a legal document, an affidavit, which says they will adjust their
status as soon as they are eligible. Most of our students are in the process of
adjusting their legal status. They are reporting to immigration; they are going
to court and spending thousands to become legal in this country.

AO – We have taken the utmost care with protecting the students as we wanted them to feel comfortable to open up, despite having to be underground or invisible most of the time because of their status.

MC – Did you have difficulty gaining access to the subjects of your film?

MR – Yes, it was a long and sensitive process. We have grown to love them. They
are not just subjects to us. They are a part of our family. Being such a
sensitive issue with serious repercussions for them, I know that they trust us
with their stories. We will not let them down or allow anyone to hurt them in
any way.

AO – We are dealing with a delicate issue and I started getting involved in the issue only a little before we started the documentary. The truth is that since they are very aware of their rights and risks we did have to show that we understood the issue and had no intention of misinterpreting the material they gave us. Since then, however, I have become an advocate for their situation myself because through filming this documentary I learned of the importance and significance of this cause.

MC – What is your target audience?

MR – Our target demographic is 14-35 years of age. We realize the importance of
teaching our youth that there are others like themselves who are struggling to
attain higher education. Their obstacles far surpass what the “normal”
American student in high school and college experiences.

We hope to help the momentum of the Federal Dream Act campaign for 2009. So
please go to www.AnUnfinishedDream.com for production updates and/or you can go
to DreamACTivist.org for constant news and events in regard to Dream Act 2009.

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