It’s hard to avoid the topic of immigration in everyday life and this includes the arts and cinema. The fact of the matter is these “illegal aliens” have tremendous stake in our economy. It’s no wonder then that movement in Latino cinema has shifted its focus to tell effective stories of the numerous perilous journeys and tribulations that many individuals from Mexico, Central & South America go through. Now, during the 25th Chicago Latino Film Festival, comes La Americana a stirring new documentary from Nicholas Bruckman. This past January, Cary Fukunaga won the coveted Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his Sin Nombre a riveting look at the treacherous journey taken by hundreds of Latino immigrants clinging to the top of moving freight trains headed toward the Mexico-Texas border.
The doc follows Maria del Carmen Rojas, an undocumented immigrant from Cochabamba, Bolivia who worked for six years in New York doing various cleaning jobs, from wiping down downtown penthouses to scrubbing a dog in a sink. Although her physical journey crossing the border wasn’t as extravagant as those individuals in Sin Nombre, her first person account of her travels is exciting enough. We can still hear the fear in her voice. Even more moving, is Carmen’s reason for coming to the States: to earn enough money to pay for the hospital bills and care for her paraplegic young daughter Carla, who lives back in Bolivia with her grandmother.
Bruckman crafts his documentary to run simply on the human condition and leaves out a lot of the governmental guff. There are no talking heads of bureaucrats, politicians or spokespeople—just the interviewees of Carmen, her Bolivian family and her New York boyfriend, who is also an illegal immigrant. Though a bold stroke in objective filmmaking, the film is open to all reactions, criticisms and imperfections that come with the subject of the legalization of immigrants. Carmen is depicted as a cynic and harshly criticizes America’s citizenship requirements. Her New York boyfriend on the other hand remains more optimistic.
Although he rides the subways day to day looking for a business that would pay him to clean their windows, he articulates how grateful and admirable he is of the US and his opportunity to work here. La Americana isn’t a fervent film that is out to change bills or laws but instead a starting point to widen the discussion from film goers to family members to friends and ultimately to you. A striking image and narrative technique Bruckman employs comes with interviewing Carmen across the waters of Ellis Island, where in the far distance behind her, we can make out the Statue of Liberty. A statue built to welcome the hungry, the poor. A statue built to embody the ideals of the first individuals who came to America. Individuals who themselves were immigrants. Bruckman is aware of this universal irony.
Upcoming Highlights of the 25th Annual Latino Film Festival: