By Giomar Silva / Migrante21
She may not have noticed, but there is something very immigrant-like in the way Patti Absher and her friends decided to organize a film festival from scratch in 2014: They had no idea how to do it, they did not have the funds to do it and it was impossible to know what the outcome would be, yet they were absolutely determined to make it happen.
The result was the first edition of the Greater Washington Immigration Festival, an event that brought 13 films from around the world to the DC area -it was intentionally spread out to Maryland and Virginia, with the help and participation of immigration non nonprofits, pro immigrant organizations and institutions like the Washington Ethical Society and the Unitarian Universalist Church. The 2015 edition starts on October 22nd and brings a much bigger organizational effort. Tickets are just $6 and often include Q&A sessions with the filmmakers and other treats.
“Our goal is to really put a face on immigration,” says Patti. “Be more aware of each other’s culture, understand that we are here and we all want basically the same things. We want good education for our kids, we want the opportunity to work and have good careers and good jobs, we want freedom to express our political beliefs.”
After all the rallies, the picketing, the hunger strikes, and the political initiatives that have been done in Washington in the name of immigration, this might be the more compelling one, the one that really can make a difference because it proposes the crazy idea of using entertainment to create awareness. “We thought of films, because even if they treat difficult subjects, even if they move us to tears, they are a powerful way of getting people involved. So we said let’s try to do a film festival,” says Patti. “How do you do a film festival? We didn’t know, we were filmgoers!”
Listen to our conversation with Patti Absher here (story continues below):
A stronger line-up
With 15 full-length movies plus a dozen short films in the official selection, the 2015 edition will present about 30 titles all over the DC area. There are many highlights, but one of the must-see entries in the program will be the world premiere of Dream: An American Story. Patti explains: “It’s made by a local filmmaker, award-winning filmmaker Aldo Bello. It took 5 years to make this film and it’s about how the DREAM movement got started. [It is an] Incredible story about [how] a young undocumented student in Miami with few other undocumented students risked being ‘outed’, so to speak, and walked from Miami to Washington, DC. This was before the Dream Act was defeated in Congress, but the hope was there. So that really got them going, and Gaby Pacheco, one of the young women who instigated this walk, is now here in Washington, and she was instrumental in getting the DACA policy written and put into effect by President Obama.”
The premiere of Dream will also feature Juan Gómez, a former DREAMer who got a full scholarship in Georgetown University and had to leave the country once his family faced deportation. Juan, an outstanding talent, has now a top-notch job in Brazil (thank you, American immigration laws) and will be returning to Washington just for this screening.
Other films will tackle issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis or how Caribbean and American cultures collide within the lives of immigrants from nations like Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic. And keep in mind: It’s not all drama and tears. People cope with hardship in different ways, and one of them is humor. Italian film On the Bride’s Side tells the story of Syrian migrants stranded in Milan: in order to make it to Sweden, their final destination, they will perform a fake wedding with the help of a Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist. And one of Patti’s picks is Buen día, Ramón, the story of a Mexican immigrant who, after trying to cross the US border unsuccessfully (5 times), decides to get on a plane to Germany in order to earn money for his mother and grandmother. Over there he will find even more difficulties and an unexpected chance of redemption.
Isn’t that what life is always about?
The Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival starts on October 22nd. You can buy tickets -for the screenings and Gala- and check the full program here.