First time filmmaker Heather Courtney shares her thoughts about filming grief, changing people's minds and leaping into the unknown.
Why did you make this film?
I had almost eight years' experience working on refugee and human rights issues prior to returning to grad school for film. In a place like Austin, Texas, which was enjoying a huge economic boom at the time, the immigration issue seemed like a story that needed to be told. In addition, because of the controversy surrounding the relocation of the day labor site and misconceptions a lot of Austin residents seemed to have about immigrants, I wanted my film to fight some of these misconceptions.
How do you think this film will have an impact?
Many community-based day labor and immigrant rights groups are using LOS TRABAJADORES to organize immigrant workers and as a general educational tool to help fight misconceptions. It's also being used in high school and university classes. I hope that if someone watches the film, maybe the next time he or she sees an immigrant on the street corner they'll think, "Here's a father or son or brother trying to get work to support his family. He's just like the rest of us."
What keeps you motivated?
The people I meet when working on my projects, the everyday heroes who would not normally be recognized. Their courage, strength and positive attitudes in the face of huge challenges help inspire me in what can often be difficult and lonely work, especially when tackling a new project.
What did you learn that you'd pass along to other aspiring filmmakers?
It's really important to spend time getting to know people and earning their trust before you stick a camera in their face, no matter how tempting that might be. But don't be afraid to tackle issues or subjects that are very different from your own experience, and do so with humility, with a willingness to learn as much from others as you can, with the recognition that it IS very different from your own experience, and with a very open mind to whatever might happen along the way.
What was the most difficult part about making of the film?
Having had no experience in making documentaries, the day I started shooting at the day labor site was a huge challenge - especially given the fact that most of the people there were undocumented immigrants who didn't exactly want to be videotaped. But I think when I went to visit Ramón's family in Mexico after his death...that is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. They were still in deep mourning, and talking about him was still quite painful. While the first day was a bit awkward, I showed them part of a rough cut of the film, and tried to explain that I wanted to show what it was like for the women and children left behind. They were quite open to talking about Ramón and their experiences as an immigrant's family. It was incredibly draining emotionally for them, but in the end, they were really happy to have the film as a remembrance of and tribute to Ramón.
Any updates on Ramón's family and Juan?
When I saw them in March 2002, Ramón's wife Virginia and their two daughters, Jade and Gema, were doing great. With the help of Virginia's brother, Jade returned to university in the neighboring state of Veracruz and is studying tourism to work in Mexico. Gema is now in high school where she received a scholarship because of her grades.
Juan married his longtime girlfriend in 2001 and they had a son recently. As of December 2002, he was working in Guatemala, and his wife was studying to be a doctor in Managua, Nicaragua.