Rewriting The Undocumented Experience On Screen
The Undocumented Filmmakers Collective has become a creative haven for undocumented creators who are often silenced in the film industry
Being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. means battling against a system that works against you. With a significant number of American citizens resenting foreigners, it can be hard to find a safe place where you feel you belong as someone who wasn’t born in this country. It’s within this context that the Undocumented Filmmakers Collective (UFC) was born, to be a supportive virtual comunity where undocumented and formerly undocumented immigrants can create art in their own terms.
“For far too long (undocumented immigrants) have been erased from the general radar of history. We've had a lot of people misrepresent us,” UFC founding member Nicole Solis-Sison told Mi Voz. “It's very important as media makers, documentarians, artists and also organizers to really change the master narrative of our personhood.”
What began as group chat where a few undocumented artists vented about the film industry has now become a nationwide collective collaborating to create art that represents the undocumented experience without biases.
Since its inception, UFC was also meant to be a door to new career possibilities for undocumented creators who can’t access many scholarships, jobs and other opportunities due to their immigration status.
“We were in a point in our lives where we were feeling really frustrated by the lack of opportunities that existed for undocumented artists, and more specifically, filmmakers and documentarians,“ UFC member Dorian Gomez told Mi Voz. “The South tends to be a place where there's not many filmmaking opportunities compared to California, for example. For me, it tends to be a very lonely experience living in the south (as an undocumented filmmaker).”
UFC scriptwriter Edgar Huerta resonated with Gomez’s experience. He told Mi Voz that as a resident of New Jersey, it was really difficult for him to find film opportunities. It wasn’t until a friend introduced him to a UFC member that he saw potential in growing his filmmaking career without leaving the state. Huerta remembers hearing about UFC’s commitment to undocumented creators and thinking that it “sounds like something that's a little too hard to believe” because of the lack of organizations like this one.
The collective makes sure to pay its collaborators and sometimes even hires non-undocumented people as crew members for their productions. “We're really challenging the narrative that undocumented people ‘steal jobs,’” UFC script writer Ame Rein told Mi Voz. “We're not stealing jobs, we're creating jobs.”
Rein and Huerta were in charge of scripting the collective’s latest short film premiering on October 7 at the virtual Allied Media Projects Seeds Festival at 5 p.m. ET (get free tickets here).
The short film “The Undocumented Rejects” explores what it means to be an undocumented artist in an industry full of cliches and dangerous stereotypes that perpetuate a misleading narrative of the undocumented experience.
“We wanted to explore the absurdity of being stereotyped in auditions and how casting directors are, and the absurdity of things that we've heard like ‘be more ethnic,’ ‘can you put an accent on that?’ Can you act more marginalized?” Rein said. “(The film is) like a love letter for immigrants, or anybody that wants to write stories, and they feel like they have to mold themselves in the industry.”
The story follows an undocumented actor who feels typecast in the film industry and decides to elaborate their own creative projects and embrace their true creative voice. The project was entirely planned, cast and shot virtually with production members across the country. “Even though we might not need specific roles, like grips or gaffers on set, there are brand new roles that come to us in this new virtual zoom set,” the film’s Assistant Director Josaen Rongkillo told Mi Voz. To make the most out of the virtual recording setting, the team personalized the actor’s computer home screen so that the viewers feel as if they’re navigating the files with the character.
With the film, Rein hopes to encourage creators of color to tell their stories as authentically as possible without having to shape them for a specific group of people who might not be familiar with your narrative. “You should write what you want to write and explore what you want to explore and have the courage to value yourself and your skills and value your story and everyone else's story.”
The Undocumented Filmmakers Collective is always welcoming new members. If you identify as an undocumented or fomerly undocumented artist, feel free to reach out to UFC through their social media platforms.