Film Explores Immigration Through Eyes of Children
When you’re sitting down with your popcorn in front of HBO this month, make sure you spend the extra time to read the credits for the name of Stephany Slaughter, assistant professor of Spanish at Alma College.
Slaughter worked as one of seven field producers for the documentary “Which Way Home,” airing this month on HBO.
The documentary tells the story of eight children trying to immigrate to the United States via a Mexican freight train. Some are trying to find family, while others are looking for jobs to send money home for their families. They are all unaccompanied minors, some having started the journey on their own, while others are abandoned by smugglers paid to get them into the country.
Slaughter met the director of the film, Rebecca Cammisa, at a conference in Mexico in early 2006. Cammisa started working on the film in 2003, but funding was difficult to find. Shortly after HBO joined the project, Mr. Mudd, a production company created by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich and Russell Smith signed on as executive producers. In 2006, they secured funding and Cammisa also earned a Fulbright grant. The final cut of the film was completed in June 2009.
“I’ve always studied film, but this was first time I got to work on a film instead of talking about someone else’s,” Slaughter says. “It was a really great experience for me to be on other side and see what goes into making a film.”
As one of the field producers working on the project, Slaughter helped Cammisa set up interviews with the subjects, working with different government and non-profit agencies to find subjects and get permissions for interviews. She also helped interpret for Cammisa while she interviewed the children, and interpreted the children’s answers.
She also worked as a logger, going through hours of footage and taking notes on camera angles and subjects to assist the editing process.
“There were challenges — when the film would be put on hold for lack of funding, people would change jobs and we would sometimes have to get permission to film all over again, or find new subjects,” Slaughter says. “But Rebecca’s language barrier ended up working to her favor. In part, because she was learning Spanish and wanted to facilitate communication, she used local crew members, which ended up making the subjects feel more comfortable.”
Cammisa had contacts in the government and non-profits that led her to find her subjects, like Grupo Beta, a section of Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration (INM), which does not enforce but rather protects and aids immigrants regardless of their legal status.
A Grupo Beta representative called Cammisa and told her they had knowledge of three children, two sisters and a brother, ages 12, 11 and 9, who were being transported to an INM detention center. The film crew arrived as the Honduran Consul worked to get the children moved to a shelter, which offered housing and activities while their family was located and where they awaited deportation.
Their mother had been working legally in Los Angeles for years while the children lived with a grandmother. When the grandmother died, the mother wanted to send for her children but didn’t know there was a legal way to get them into the country. So she hired a smuggler, who eventually abandoned the children.
“It was really amazing to hear their story and to see first hand the impact of immigration policies,” Slaughter says. “I hope this film will not only show that impact and inspire conversation about the need for multinational immigration reform, but also will educate parents about the dangers of sending their children with smugglers and allowing them to travel alone.”
The film recently participated in the Traverse City Film Festival, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Human Rights.
Posted: Mon, August 17th, 2009 at 9:05AM