POV: What was the hardest thing about making this film?
Carlos Sandoval: As a non-filmmaker, figuring out how to go about doing it in the first place was an extraordinary challenge. This has all been like groping through the dark, but I’ve been very lucky to have the support of some very, very talented people. As I was pondering what to do with this issue that I felt myself being drawn into more and more, the documentary was a thought that came to me in the middle of the night. Luckily within a few days, I mentioned this to someone and I got an introduction to Nigel Nobel, who is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Nigel was a neighbor, as it turns out, and was taken by the subject. He got me on the course of trying to do the film in the objective, straight-down-the-middle path.
So the process was really made a lot easier by Nigel. In the past I’ve also been a program officer at a foundation, so I know about raising money. That helped quite a bit when it came to raising the budget. As a lawyer and “policy wonk” I could phrase things in a way that people would understand. So, the money came, it was difficult, but it happened. I think people were responding to the idea of the film because they knew this was an issue whose time was ripe.
For me the hardest thing about making this film was moving into Farmingville at first. I moved alone into a town I didn’t know in an area that was hostile to people who look like me. I was in alien territory. There had been a case of two brutal beatings. There were stories circulating about people being harassed, pelted with eggs or rocks, name calling. I didn’t know what I was going to confront. I didn’t realize how fearful I would be until I spent my first night there alone. I internalized the fear in many different ways — making sure doors were locked, watching my phone calls. I later discovered that most of this was in my mind, but going in I didn’t know what to expect.
I did experience some hostility. One night when I was walking home from dinner, a car veered at me. I was so unaccustomed to this that I didn’t realize the headlights were coming towards me. Someone yelled out, “you *** illegal, why don’t you go back to the **** country you came from!” My first thought was, “I have to go back to Manhattan?”
I would stand on the street corners waiting for the light to change, because the residents complained about the men jaywalking and so I thought, “I will be the good citizen and I will stand and wait for the lights to change.” Well, I came to understand why the men cross so quickly, because at times when I would stand there, I would have teenagers bark at me, and one time, a woman drove by in her SUV, just slowly along beside me, screaming at no one in particular. I was the only person around. Fortunately I’m old enough and experienced enough to be able to just slough it off. But it was there.
Catherine Tambini: To me, the most challenging thing about making the film was getting people to talk to us. No one wanted to talk to us. The immigrant men didn’t want to be seen, they didn’t want to be noticed, they wanted to remain anonymous on the street corners. The residents didn’t want their neighbors to see how they were coming out on the issue, because they didn’t want to be seen as racist or they didn’t want to be seen as pro-immigrant. So it was very difficult finding people.
It was good for both Carlos and I, as a Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman, to be in the community. It did seem like there was somebody “on both sides” who would be representing both groups. The funny thing is that Carlos really became very good friends with Margaret Bianculli-Dyber, the leader of Satchem Quality of Life, the anti-immigrant group in Farmingville, and I had a easier time with the Mexican men. It was a very interesting switch that you wouldn’t anticipated.
POV: Carlos, what would be your advice to other first-time filmmakers?
Carlos: My greatest bit of advice to any first time filmmaker is find yourself some talented people to surround yourself with, recognize their talent, but at the same time, hold true to your vision. It’s a very hard balance to carry forward. But both are necessary, both are important.
On a technical level, one thing to be aware of is that with all this wonderful digital technology, tape is cheap, so you can really be profligate with it. Then you hit the edit room, and you have 200 hours of tape to go through, and that’s where the cost comes out. I think we’re struggling with that as filmmakers these days. We’re trying to figure out what the balance is between the ability to go out and shoot as much as you want, and a discipline that existed before, when film was so expensive. I don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps it’s scripting to a certain degree beforehand, focusing your story more. Of course when you’re in the field, when you do a film such as we did, you don’t know where that story is going to go.