‘SOMEONE IS SINGING,” I heard him say as we were approaching the demonstration. That afternoon, more and more cops surrounded us. We followed the downpour of cameramen and protestors who were pitifully searching for one another. Then Hussein, a recent refugee who arrived to the USA just three years ago from his beloved Baghdad, Iraq, randomly picked a sign that read “A Nation of Immigrants.” Mercedes Sosa’s powerful voice singing La Maza (originally by Silvio Rodriguez) pervaded the rally. And yet I held the camera and hoped that it will make sense of the police frenzy, the sea of signs, and a cacophony of voices that demanded something like justice. As soon as the clamor slowed down, the crowd said that they are here to be heard. In the distance, an African-American man carried a sign against fascism.
What does chaos mask?
The camera comes in and out of focus. What used to be visible is now unclear, murky, blurred. Karla walks in her neighborhood through the thickness of the night. She talks about her parents when they smuggled her through the USA-Mexican border. Now, she recalls her childhood, the days that she saved money to fix her glasses. Just like this immense wave of nomads from Africa, Middle East, and Asia, for whom “to migrate,” “to cross,” and “to seek refuge” is a way of life, Karla has developed that sensibility to see beyond borders. Karla doesn’t want to waste her heartbeats. She taught herself how to be positive, how to stitch, be healthy, multitask her being, take care of her mother, dream in cubicles, stay productive, and be brutally honest: “My name is Karla, not undocumented!”
What does this border mask?
A gate. This country, like this world, doesn’t suffer from a lack of fences and gates but from the excess of it. The camera does not move; neither does the fence. Children appear from nowhere. They play behind the gate. From the distance, a young African man in his early-twenties emerges. Serges Amani, who arrived from Congo to the USA five years ago and since then has lived with his mother in this housing complex, watches the children. He smiles: “I can be disappointed, abandoned, but never defeated.” After returning from his day job in the local metal factory, he goes over rhymes, later free styling down Hillcroft. Suddenly, the children are about to leave but then they return to stand behind the fence. The boy hits the black-bars with his wooden stick and the young girl faces the camera.
What does freedom mask?
Ever since Tu Tu began working in his local community garden, he liberated himself. After twenty-five years in the refugee camp in Thailand, and eight years after his arrival to the USA, now, finally, he is free. Birds are singing. Trees play their music. Only later Tu Tu will talk about his obsession with filming and what it means to be free with a minimum wage of $7.5 per hour. He wants to make his film. He will. He can’t. He won’t. But he… maybe, yes, can’t… for now, birds and trees stare at him, as he hunches like a skater, picks some plants, and carefully cleans the roots. Still gripping the roots, he reminds me that his friends, who like Tu Tu migrated from Burma, told him that one day they will work together in their own farm. Together, perhaps then, freedom will not be reserved to the weekends or visits to the community garden down Ranchester Drive and Beechnut Street.
What do words mask?
Nancy Adossi never told her story. The camera watches her as she hesitates. We first met in random café, and among semi-fashionable hipsters she began. Yes, she came to this country as a child from Togo and has been undocumented since then. In between, she witnessed her mother insisting that something like hope exists, somehow, somewhere. Even if this world rejects you there is a place, or just a room, where you can be yourself, no? In between, more hipsters, cups of late, playing it cool in downtown Houston. Now, she is willing to tell her story. Next time she will take me to her Fiesta, their first destination as they arrived here, where she got to know about this country of endless opportunities and chocolates. She will. She is. Because she feels she is not being judged.
What does this "Director Statement" mask?
I am the son and product of too many wars and violent cultural syncretism, half-Jewish, half-Arab, and half-invented, too many halves. My generation grew up with/in/amidst wars, as such we grew us with inherit suspicion toward the films we watched and books we read. We were drafted, militarized, and disciplined by borders. There, while marching in everyday prisons, we found no value in words. We left.
In that unsettled space of silence, we belonged to the world’s growing population: the tribe of the displaced; territorial rebels who have to leave before they choke; F-1 souls who have no home to return to: aging outcasts and fugitives that picked God to be their social worker; asylum and love seekers who refuse to arrive but will settle with temporary safety, or with the illusion of refuge.
In we are in it, I tried to make a film that captures everyday life, objects, spaces, and silences, thus elevating the seemingly insignificant, while also seeing the deep beauty and horror that is often overlooked under the veneer of the commonplace.