Interview with Rhys Aaron Lewis & Valeria Luongo (UNDOCUMENTED)

UNDOCUMENTED played to rave reviews at the January 2021 Under 5 Minute Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

In 2017 Valeria and I were awarded a grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK to carry out research on “cross-language dynamics”, that is, communities where more than one language is present or in use. As anthropologists we had both spent many years living and working in Mexico, so we were naturally drawn to continue our work amongst a Mexican community. We looked to the US, being Mexico’s biggest neighbour and knowing that there were many communities of Mexican Americans across the country. This led us to Chicago, which has a very significant Mexcian American population despite being so far from the border. Initially we wanted to study the presence of “Chicano-English” in the city however after speaking to several people we realised that the issue of “DACA” and being “undocumented” was a much more pressing issue among the community, so our project naturally developed to focus on this important issue. There are many young people across the US who have lived their whole lives there but may not have full rights as citizens. We found that this was an issue which was not very well known in Europe and even among some Americans we spoke to, which highlighted the importance of telling the story!

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

We were awarded the grant at the end of 2017 which is when we proposed the original idea of filming a community of Mexcian Americans in Chicago. We flew to the US one year later where we spent approximately 6 weeks in Chicago. In this time we had to find a story, find participants and shoot the short film. It then took around 2 months to edit the film, which was initially a much longer piece of around 25 minutes. We then spent some months after this working on and off, fine tuning the film until we eventually arrived at this finished piece. All in all from the idea to the finished project it took around a year and a half to complete.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

“Urgent” and “moving”

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle we faced was in the lack of funding in the production phase. We had an extremely small budget which meant we were under a lot of time pressure while in Chicago to find a story and participants. In the end we had to get by with a lot of favours – staying with friends and using public transport to save money!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We were extremely pleased to see that the film resonated with so many people. Though we have screened the film here in the UK, this was the first time the film had played in front of an audience in the USA so we were quite nervous to see how people would respond!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

We came up with the idea together after speaking to Joseph, the protagonist in the film, and asking him what was important in his life at the time and what he thought was important to show in the film. We wanted the film to be representative of his experience and those around him. We later contacted a friend in Mexico to narrate the middle section of the film, when Joseph starts to talk about his memories of his birth country. We thought it was important to include this section to show that it is in fact possible for people to hold multiple allegiances, particularly for those from immigrant backgrounds.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Rhys – “The Incredibles”
Valeria – “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I’ve found many great festivals through FilmFreeway both big and small. It has been very helpful in getting some of my films, particularly the smaller ones, seen by other people.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Rhys – “The ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ Theme tune!”
Valeria – “Probably ‘Cumbia Sobre el Mar’ by Quantic and Flowering Inferno!”

10. What is next for you? A new film?

We hope to return to Chicago to work on another short film we started while we were there in 2018!

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