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Yet visiting the museum again I felt that the film shows only the tip of the iceberg of what this extraordinary institution has to offer. Bai Tan, an educator and museum guide, led us through the cramped, poorly ventilated and dimly lit rowhouses which the museum has carefully researched and restored to recreate the lives of the immigrants who lived here from the end of the 19th to the mid 20th century. Personal details of their lives help us understand not just how these immigrants lived and worked, but also who they were and what they felt. (The museum features an amazing virtual tour on their website, and even though you cannot feel the humidity, the dust and the darkness of the rooms, it is an amazing experience --click on the big photos below to see the tour.)
Inside the Gumpertz' home, we see where Natalie worked, sewing and caring for 4 children after her husband tragically disappeared after the economic depression of 1890, which had resulted in bank and business failures and had caused many to lose everything. Our guide described it as a desperate time when there were no social "safety net" programs to keep people from the depths of despair. Even worse, German immigrants like the Gumpertzes faced Germanophobia: a fear that Germans would colonize the US with their language, their songs, their culture. (Check out the wikipedia). Any resemblance with the current backslash on Latino immigration and the fears of Mexican "reconquista"?
Last summer, the New York Times published an interesting op-ed that drew parallels between modern anti-immigrant sentiment and previous backlashes against previous newcomers to this country. It was called "The Founding Immigrants". It began with a quote:
"Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."
A recent proponent of the border fence? No, actually this quote is from Benjamin Franklin, written more than 300 years ago and refers to the Pennsylvania Dutch. The parallels are striking and the Gumpertz' home brought that all home.
As we continued our tour, I was even more deeply moved by the story of the Baldizzi family, who arrived from Italy in the 1920's. Unlike the European immigrants who had arrived just 30 years earlier and lived next door, the Baldizzis' had a harder time coming to the US. Immigration was starting to be "illegal" and quotas had been established. The Museum documents their story: the Baldizzi wife obtained fake papers, traveled to France, boarded a boat to Canada and lived there long enough to get papers and come to the US, where she joined her husband who was living here "undocumented".
In the kitchen the museum plays a recording of the Baldizzi's daughter exploring a litany of memories: the "ice coins" they used to put in the gas to warm the water without paying, the sink/bathtub where they would bathe once a week, the board games they played with their father at night after the world quieted down. And the radio, that old radio that kept her mother company, playing soap operas that made her cry and cry, remembering the family she left behind -mother, father, brothers, friends that she knew she would not see again. And there I was with tears in my eyes, too.
On Tuesday December 4th Made in L.A. screened at Columbia University as the closing film of a series on Latino Migration at Columbia's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Curated by filmmaker and Columbia professor Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the series included five of the best films documenting the immigration experiences of Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans to the U.S. The series' hope was to contribute to the on-going debate on immigration, citizenship, and globalization, and it was indeed an interesting debate on these and other topics.
One student questioned current assumptions about immigrants' upward mobility, and the frequent omission of the root causes that force people to come to the US in discussions about immigration. It was a serious conversation and I have to say that, like that student, I don't believe in the universality of the "American Dream" narrative, i.e. that everyone has an opportunity to "make it" here as long as they work hard and have the necessary determination. I believe it to be a myth -sustained, like other myths, by reinforcement and repetition. Of course there are many cases where that narrative applies. But what I have seen in the five years of making this film is that great sacrifices are made by each new generation of immigrants in the hopes that they can provide a better future for their children, often giving up everything - their happiness, their country, their loved ones - for that promised future. And that even for their children that better future is only sometimes achieved. Many of these children will see themselves absorbed into the same cycle of poverty and low wage work Some will get out, especially if they find ways to access to a good education, fulfilling the dreams that their parents once had for them...
One of the most fascinating parts of the evening came after the class - my long conversation with Frances Negrón-Muntaner, in a Cuban restaurant near the University. Frances is an amazing storyteller (and an extraordinary writer and filmmaker) and I, who love to talk and tell stories, could only listen and listen. We stayed there in front of our Pollo con Arroz, our Camarones al Ajillo and Frances' Negra Modelo until midnight, when the restaurant closed and pushed us outside into the cold.
It is beautiful to see people being moved at each presentation of the film, and equally beautiful to be able to discuss this work and to learn from friends and colleagues who share this path.
Check out the article by Frances Negrón-Muntaner at New York's El Diario La Prensa (In Spanish)
Cuenca , a beautiful town in Spain, just celebrated Mujeres en Dirección's second successful year as one of Spain's most important womens' film festivals. I had just been in Spain for Valladolid and was in between travels, so I wasn't able to attend the festival. But the good news - that Made in L.A. won best documentary - came by e-mail, and my parents, who had arrived that same day from a trip to Argentina, went to Cuenca to receive the award on my behalf.
My mother looks out at the famous "hanging houses"
As it turns out my father kept making jokes throughout the speech (very much in the family style) so afterwards I received e-mails complementing me for having such great parents and wonderful ambassadors...
Here are a few photos:
My parents picking up award
My parents with the award winners
(note that my father is the only man holding an award...)
Left to right: Iciar Bollain (who received a special recognition for her professional career as a director, screenwriter and actress.), my mother, Marta Belaustegui (Actress and Festival Director), festival organizer and my father.
It's great to be screening the film in other parts of the world and to see how deeply it touches people, but it's just awesome to screen the film in the community it represents: they understand every little detail, every wink, every joke! It was a powerful, deep and meaningful event. Lupe and Joann came with me to talk with the community members who were present. The reaction was simply amazing.
One woman rose to speak. She was crying. In Spanish, she explained that for years she has been organizing with a group fighting for better housing, and that they are currently going through a difficult period in their campaign (as the workers experienced in the boycott of Forever 21 that is portrayed in Made in L.A.) Seeing the film gave her the strength to continue, and her words gave all of us another lesson of perseverance. Another woman stood up and, in between tears, she explained that she and her husband were garment workers and were left without jobs during the holiday season (garment work typically decreases in November and picks up again in February -for immigrants working on a temporary basis, this means no work and no salary). As a result, they didn't have enough to pay for X-mas presents for their children. She said she felt different after seeing the film: stronger. We gave her a DVD as a present...
It was one of those days where you really feel proud of the work you did and forget all you've gone through to make it...
Besides the extra kilos we're bringing back (the festival gives you TONS of meal vouchers for the BEST restaurants in town...), we're also bringing back a wonderful award -a rare Special Mention of the Jury, which we were assured, last happened 30 years ago! It was indeed quite a blast: a red carpet for the winners and an awards ceremony broadcast life on national TV, with Sofia Loren, who was sitting just 5 feet from me backstage... The jury recognized Made in L.A. "because through its treatment of a specific story it ultimately deals with a universal conflict -that of immigration and cross-cultural relations- and with an eternal struggle -the exploitation of the weakest by the most powerful- as well as with personal dignity and its power to transform human beings."
It was beautiful to return to Spain with the film and close the circle. Funnily, a few of my family members dispersed throughout Spain got to meet Robert for the first time when they saw us giving our acceptance speech on TV... I also keep thinking that my PhD advisor, with whom I haven't had contact in two years, might have seen me on TV and might have found out why I haven't turned in my dissertation yet... (I came to the US to work on my PhD on border docs, and instead I ended up making... border docs!). Here're some photos of the Awards Gala (many of them courtesy of Cesar Minguela):
Besides the awards gala, the festival itself was beautiful and meaningful ( and delicious, if I may add). As we did at Silverdocs and at the Los Angeles Film Festival, we made a special effort to reach out to the immigrant community and 6 different organizations came to the screenings . This, which may seem easy, proved to be quite a task, since most of them are not regularly on e-mail... so while some filmmakers where taking naps after the long lunches, I spent hours on the phone locating the right people and making a point in having a diverse audience (read the press release, in Spanish). Our screenings were packed, and once again there was a thundering applause and an incredibly emotional response . Some people couldn't contain the emotion and cried during their questions. It was all very moving, and a testament that the film can cross borders and reach out to those of us who believe in the right to fight for human dignity.
For our screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival our motto was “Let’s bring East LA to West LA” (the festival is located in the west side of town), but this time the film screened IN East LA, at the amazing Plaza de la Raza. It was an honor to receive this award from the community the film represents, and a double honor given the name the award carries: Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. (To read more about his life click here)
Made in L.A. Nominated for the IDA’s Pare Lorentz Award
The winner in the category is Spike Lee’s "When the Levees Broke: a Requiem if Four Acts." Hey, being nominated next to Spike Lee is already a triumph!
If you want to learn more about who Pare Lorentz was, click here.
Made in L.A. to screen at Seoul International Labor Video & Film Festival!
Made in L.A. premieres in Canada at the Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver and Toronto.
Made in L.A. to premiere in Tijuana at a Stellar Presentation at CECUT's IMAX as part of Bordocs!
To check screenings in your area, visit our screenings page, which I update weekly.
To stay tuned, join our list!
(It was great to see Larry Kirkman, Dean of the School of Communication at AU, mixed in with students in the audience! Larry has been a supporter ever since he was a member of the jury that gave my short doc the Sterling Award at Silverdocs in 2003...)
The screening was followed by a panel with Margy Waller, Co-Founder of Inclusion and Director of the Mobility Agenda, Rich Stolz from the Center for Community Change's Immigration Team, and of course Robert and myself. The students were boiling with questions, and it was actually one of the most interesting discussions we've had with the film so far. We were all able to bring to the forefront ALL aspects of the film and use the film to contextualize them and put a human face on issues of poverty, immigration, women's rights, fair labor, and the right to organize. Check out Inclusion's blog for more about the event! (We're working to put up a podcast of the panel -stay tuned or join our list for updates!)
If you haven't gone to Morelia you cannot understand how beautiful this little town is. Robert and I visited this town in Mexico's Michoacan state, along my parents, two years ago for the Day of the Dead. The Morelia International Film Festival had just happened and there were tons of signs everywhere. I told Robert: "next year we will come with the film". Well, it took two years, and it was only me, but yes, I did return with the film last October 5. Shannon Kelley (Morelia's Artistic Director and former Sundance Documentary Fund Director), who invited us to the festival, gave it a special privileged spot within the festival: Cine sin Fronteras, "Cinema without borders".
This was the first screening outside the US and I was a bit nervous. It was packed and I was shocked to hear EVERYONE talking during the screening! I was about to go to the "talkers" and tell them to shut up when I asked someone from the festival "is this normal!? They don't stop taking!". He said "oh, that's very good, that's what normally happens when they like it -they talk about it!". Uh? OK, then that was good. What followed was an intelligent, fascinating discussion about the film, international politics, global labor, and the future of Latin America.
The second screening was actually an open air screening FOR the people of Morelia: the festival closes a street next to the cathedral, and neither the cars with music going by, or even the fireworks that went on during the screening (!) distracted this crowd of over 250 people from watching the film. 90% of the people stayed for the Q&A- if the first Q&A was interesting, this one was mind blowing: people kept clapping in ovation to my answers (despite my disclaimers that I was not an "expert" in international economics). Michoacán is a state with a very high percentage of migrants, and as people explained, there are whole villages where the men have all left. Here's a selection of the questions I was asked, which I managed to write in a napkin during dinner afterwards: "What's the solution so that people don't have to leave our land?" "How did people in the US respond?" "With some many political prisoners in the US, was there a political backlash against the protesters?" "How's the situation in the film similar to other countries in Europe with their immigrant population?" "Is it a coincidence that most of the people and organizers in the film are women?" "Do Americans understand us?" "How can we prosper in Latin America?" "How can we use the film here in Mexico?"
The festival added a 4th screening... After this, I left with the determination of retuning to Mexico and distributing the film across the country.
The film received a lot of attention and our second La Jornada article. What was funny is that our first screening happened at the time than the premiere of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (Special Jury Price at Cannes) so the press didn't even see us that day. So next day I went to the press room and just sat there! Then it all came fast and I spent two days non-stop, getting into other publications, on-line magazines, radio and local TV.
And the rest? Well you can imagine: good movies, and good parties. Here's a selection of people and parties that I did not miss!:
One of the best of the festival was the amazing presence of Steven Frears and Bertrand Taverier, who I met, but whose presentations I missed while waiting to meet a TV journalist for an interview. I was conflicted : do I go to the screenings and lectures, which I simply love doing, and advance my film knowledge and "career", or do I "take care of the film", and do the best I can for it? Sometimes I feel like the mother of the creature, giving (even giving up) everything for it. It's just so hard to choose, because the film has become such an integrant part of my life...
When one day, some time ago, while visiting my parents in Madrid, Robert and I returned home tired and complaining after a whole day walking and visiting Madrid, my father said with irony: "Aahh.. difficult life of a tourist!" So now I remember his words and I cannot help but exclaim: "Aahh... difficult life of a filmmaker"...
Many of these e-mails that came through our contact page are from organizations that want to use the film as a tool in their work. Within the next week we'll have a brand-new "Get Involved" page, which will include a section just for organizations!
A lot of e-mails have also been coming from individuals. E-mails and postings with praises, questions, and comments on the film. I want to include here just some of this very beautiful and emotional feedback. Thank you all for sharing all your feelings and thoughts with us...!
Thank you for making a difference. –Michael.
"I'm the daughter of immigrants and I have never seen anything like "Made in L.A.". I was moved to tears... I don't know if you will ever know the impact that this movie has had on me and I'm sure on many others. I want to and WILL do all I can to help immigrants in this country. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU." –Evette Gonzalez
What a wonderful documentary. Congratulations, you show the power of unity, coming together, and organization –Wilson M.
It was amazing.... inspiring, heartbreaking, enlightening... –Carolina
I laughed, I cried, it changed my life -- seriously! Congratulations on a beautiful, powerful picture. –Paige
We were so moved by your film. Your women are amazing--courageous, vulnerable, one moment we're laughing, the next we're in tears. What an important story you've told. In these days of immigrant bashing, your voice and those of your hard-working, oppressed garment workers are very much needed. In these discouraging times, your story resonates with "si se puede." –Christie and Dennis
We've all watched well-meaning docs that drone on until our butts ache. But yours worked! Yea! Casting. Story. Conflict. Meaning. Laughter. Tears. More meaning. You did it. –Deke
"Mi abuela trabajo en lo mismo hace muchos años y pude identificar con ustedes. Admiro mucho su coraje y valor. –Ismael
I went through so many emotions while watching this documentary. It was very overwhelming. It's now the day after for me and I'm still tearing up... I am a divorced woman raising my two children alone. I am first generation born in America. After watching this wonderful film, I am going to start going to different after school programs to teach the children the full knowledge of immigration. I may not be able to change the whole country, but I at least can attempt to change the ignorance. –Marcella
What an amazing, beautiful, moving creation. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.–Peck
Terrific!! Real, Authentic, Inspiring... I think it really doesn't matter where we're from, I think what really matters is how we make our heart and brain work... –FtPe*
I could not take my eyes off the screen as I felt I was fighting along side the women of the story... Congrats! on having the courage to stand up for your rights! –Stephanfe.
I wept, I was depressed, I was encouraged, I was outraged! But in the end I was left with renewed determination: To continue to never allow anyone to degrade the immigrant population in any way! And to look very closely into who I am buying from, and make sure they are users of fair labor laws! Thank you for making me see, learn, think, and act!! –"kolours"
hi my name is rosa iam 19 yrs old and was born in washington state. i grew up a hard life in poverty and watching that clip made in L.A touched my heart. it brang back alot of memories. i couldnt help but cry and cry. it breaks my heart inside... i want ppl to appericiate what they have and never take things for granted. life will get betterz i know. –Rosa H.
It is the eve of the film's broadcast in Los Angeles (tonight at 10:30pm on KCET), and we have just returned from our San Francisco premiere!
Guess what we found RIGHT IN FRONT of our hotel subway exit at Union Square??? YES: a HUGE Forever 21 store!
Lupe, Almudena and Robert in front of Made in LA's poster at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco
The Roxie Theater was packed! 289 seats, and NOT ONE seat available! About 100 people were turned away at the door (so painful - a bittersweet mark of the event's success)
The screening itself was a moving evening of tears, cheering and laughter throughout the film. Perhaps not so surprisingly, this was the first time that the audience cheered when Lupe goes to Hong Kong to protest the World Trade Organization!
We had an extended panel afterwards, moderated by the wonderful Katie Quan, Associate Chair of UC Berkeley Labor Center. I must point out that, many years ago, when the film was developing, we conducted a number of interviews with experts, and Katie was kind enough to let me interview her. None of these 20+ interviews (which include Noam Chomksy and Howard Zinn) made it into the film, but the best, including Katie Quan's, will be part of a special DVD extra that we hope to be able to incorporate into a future edition of the DVD...
The audience had tons of intelligent questions about consumer responsibility, a system for "labeling" the production of clothes (similar to the labels in food), the need to "stop fighting" globalization and embrace "global organizing", the successes and challenges facing worker centers in US, Europe and Asia, and the need for an effective and fair immigration reform to help make immigrant workers less vulnerable to exploitation. A precious moment was Lupe's answer to the question: "What would you tell people who are scared of complaining or protesting"? Lupe said: "My mom would say, ‘he who gets angry, loses'. Very often when I get angry, I feel like a ball of fire that is burning me inside. I would tell everyone to take that ball of fire, plan things out, and, calmly, throw it against what makes you miserable. Don't get consumed by that ball of fire. Fire back."
The event was organized by Active Voice and the UC Berkeley Labor Center. It was co-sponsored by KQED with Amnesty International Western Regional Office, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Global Exchange, ITVS, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, POV, and Sweatshop Watch. Thank you all for your kindness and your support of this event!
After 5 long years, Made in L.A. is finally complete and we're just amazed by the buzz and the impact that it's already starting to have! The last weeks (really, the last months!) have been a frenzy of activity, as we've been working to finish the film, then premiered at several film festivals, and then worked to get ready for our PBS broadcast... And yet everything that has come out of it is really beautiful. The film will be broadcast next Tuesday Sept 4 at 10pm on PBS' POV series, and, right on Labor Day, we are launching this new website which is meant to be a hub for outreach and information around the film. Here you'll be able to see what's been happening, to learn about past and future screenings and soon, much, much more.
In the next days and weeks we will be adding new and exciting content: video, pictures, resources, ways you can get involved, information about campaigns and interesting links... And I commit to update you guys through this blog as the film tours throughout the country, and the world. Stay tuned, and welcome!
Después de 5 largos años, hemos finalmente terminado Made in L.A., y estamos impresionados por la popularidad y el impacto que esta empezando a tener! Las últimas semanas (bueno, ¡los últimos meses!) han sido una autentica locura, porque hemos estado trabajando para terminar la película, después hemos estrenado en varios festivales importantes, y finalmente hemos seguido trabajando para estar listos para la emisión en televisión... Pero lo que ha salido de todo esto es increíble. La película se estrena en televisión nacional en EEUU el martes 4 de Septiembre en POV, la prestigiosa serie de PBS y, el mismito Día del Trabajo, estamos lanzando esta nueva website que queremos que sea un centro vital de información sobre la difusión de la película. Aquí podrás ver lo que está pasado con el documental, enterarte de qué proyecciones y eventos va a haber, y mucho, mucho más.
En los próximos días y semanas vamos a ir añadiendo nuevo contenido: video, fotos, enlaces a sitios de interés, acciones concretas para que puedas involucrarte y participar, información sobre otras campañas... Y yo me comprometo a manteneros al día a través de este blog, en nuestro viaje de presentación de la película por EEUU y por el mundo. Estad atento/as, y ¡bienvenido/as!