Mexican Immigration Movies, Production Notes from the Director, Dan Glynn

-These notes are a string of random thoughts that do not follow any true sequence.  I have done this on purpose in the hopes that you will read them all to get to the good stuff about the first of my undocumented Mexican immigration documentaries.

-One night filming, might lighting covered with china bulb paper which I had treated with fire resistant  spray, the paper caught on fire. It fell on the carpet in Jairo’s house in the USA.  One family member very calmly walked over and stamped it out as if this were normal, as I panicked.

-In the Shadows is a film about crossing the Mexican border.  Migrants look to find a job working in American in the shadows for more money to send home to Mexico. Research for the documentary on immigration began in 2003 and ended up digging into much more than the Mexican-American border.

-Like many other Mexican immigration films and documentaries, In the Shadows covers the issues about immigration.  Meanwhile, it also takes a very personal look at the lives of a large family of migrants from the Mexican jungle for over four years.  It explores why undocumented immigration is still such a major matter of state in the both Mexico and America.  You can enjoy watching “In the Shadows” free on Kanopy Streaming.  (Closed captioned in English)

– I often found myself up to my ankles in cow dung with it finding its place on my filming rig or my face.  Quite a few items  of clothing were left behind on the farm as well as a few dung coated camera parts.  The most fun I had was shooting “dolly” shots while standing in the back of a pickup truck in the winter in upstate NY.

-My passion for making Mexican immigration movies began through talks with a dairy farmer who employs Mexican workers. Most are from the same village in Mexico.  This is a common with many farmers in the United States.  His stories about his workers crossing the Mexican-American frontier grabbed my mind.  He told me about the risky conditions that “undocumented” or “illegal”  workers face.

-I did much research in the  making of Mexican Immigration films and I looked into documentaries in on the whole. Then, I made up my mind to make this film about undocumented immigration in America.  I spent over four years part-time on the farm and I also traveled to meet with other human rights groups.  They included Derechos Humanos, No More Deaths and others.  On the other side, I met with private border patrol groups including American Border Patrol and the The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

-The owner of the dairy farm told me stories of  his workers who had been robbed, kidnapped or had nearly died of heat stroke on their journeys.  One, migrant even tripping over a dead body in the dark walking at night in the desert in Arizona  The border is full of smugglers or “coyotes“, some better than others.

-Many are very corrupt or worse in their actions.  There are reports of many  deaths and rapes on the border as well.  Some of the migrants who held many jobs on the farm had been captured and expelled many times by the U.S. Border Patrol.  These stories caused me to make the first in a series of Mexican Immigration films.

-My first idea was to film Mexican immigration movies about the border crossing stories of Mexicans working at their jobs in the United Sates.  While filming, migration began to become a hot button issue in American politics.  Then I settled on the fact that I should include the immigration debate as part of the film.  I closely followed a family of  undocumented or illegal immigrants, expressed by your politics.  I learned about their daily lives over time through their ups and downs over the years,

-In my research for In the Shadows, I discovered that hundreds of Mexican deaths occur each year along the border.  Most are workers seeking jobs in American who die during their risky crossings.  This is the main reason that I made up my mind to research making a film about undocumented immigration in America.  I watched many Mexican immigration documentaries and films in my research.

-During this time, I watched films and read books about migrant workers in America and the economics behind it.  I studied the history of the U.S. – Mexican border and the Bracero program.   The program granted short term visas to Mexican workers in the past along with some other visa programs for for foreign workers.

-I feel that this film is one of the best complete  Mexican immigration documentaries to date.  It covers many sides of the issues with undocumented immigration.   This film is a fair look at as many stances as possible on this issue that divides so many.

-Most of the edits were done on a many laptops on dining room tables, and friend’s homes.  Finally, we settled in at Post Works in NYC for the last few weeks of editing and sound.  Luis Ortiz-Guillen and I did our edits over the course of 6-7 years in bits and pieces.  After that time, the first film festival copy with Spanish and English subtitles was finished..

-I worked years on this film about members of a large family and what their lives and jobs are like here in America.  The film studies further the reasons why they take these risks crossing the border on many occasions.  It was made in the hopes of  making people aware of the number of migrants who die along the border.  Meanwhile, I was hoping to inform about the need for immigration reform.

-The biggest moral problem I had happened when I was scheduled to record a segment with Jairo’s cousin Julio one night, and he never showed up.  We later learned that he had been detained and that the police or others may be coming to raid the family home.  Attempts at trying to help get Julio out of jail failed.

-Then, it occurred to me that I might have an gripping and stirring chance to catch this on film.  After thinking about whether to film or not, I asked Jairo, “What should I do?  Film it or not?”  Without pausing, he told me to film it, after all, was that not what I was there to do?

-I drove along the frontier regions of the Southwestern U.S. where miles seem to go by with nothing to see.  There were empty desert lands and hills with a few ranches between the cities found along the way.  I saw the same burned out truck with an anti-immigrant sign that I had seen in another documentary I had seen while researching  Mexican immigration movies.

-One time, I asked one of the Mexican workers (Laurentino) if he would cooperate with my efforts and appear in the film.  He said, “Is this film-making what you do for a living?”  After I replied, “Yes.”  He said, “Then I must help you and appear in your film because work is very important and can be difficult to find. So, yes I will help you.”

-I found this to be one of the most touching moments I had with this project.  He  knew the risk he was putting himself in appearing on camera, and still agreed to participate.  Especially, he felt he was helping someone else make a living.

-Over the years, I spoke to  Charlie the farm owner discussing the possibility of making a documentary on his farm.   The big question was would his partner agree to it and would the Mexican farm hands agree as well.  One day he told me everyone was on board.  I packed my parents’ Jeep full of camera equipment, and drove up to the farm.  Charlie’s partner greeted me and said, “Hey Dan, what the Hell are you doing here?”  At that point, I realized that no one was on board, or even knew I was coming up to film a documentary.  I realized that Charlie had conned me into coming up there, and I will be forever grateful for that.

-I proceeded to follow Charlie around the farm for about 2 weeks pretending I was making a film about dairy farming.  One day, Jairo asked me, “Why aren’t you filming me?”  Later in an interview setting, I let Jairo know that it was not a documentary about dairy farming.  It was about undocumented or illegal immigration.  He initially refused to continue.  After I asked him if he liked the current system, he replied, “No.”  I said, “Maybe someone has to take a chance and appear in such a documentary.  Perhaps, a change would take place.”  At that point, I could see the light bulb flash on over his head.  He told me he would ask the rest of his family to cooperate with me. My desire to make one of my first Mexican immigration movies was now a reality.

-My Southwestern journey gave me a small taste of the conditions which Mexican migrants must face on the border.  I spent days in the desert with pro-immigrant groups and social justice groups as they filled water tanks for migrant job seekers.  Also, I spent two full days in Arizona at an anti-illegal immigrant Minuteman rally.  On the several full days I spent out in the desert in, I found it impossible to stay hydrated.  However, I  also had the luxury of staying at hotels that migrants crossing the border in cold desert temperatures at night do not.

-Making Mexican immigration movies, involves hearing polar opposite viewpoints. I heard words and slogans from these groups such as “undocumented” vs. “illegal,” “migrant” versus “alien.”  Also heard was, “No person is illegal” against “We are going to make the illegals build the wall.”  There were “workers” or “trespassers” who were crossing the border. In conclusion, I don’t see a resolution on this issue any time soon.  Click here to read the full documentary transcript.

–    Dan Glynn