Liv­ing in the shad­ows

Im­mi­gra­tion film fes­ti­val hopes to open eyes and per­haps change minds

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BY DAVID MONT­GOMERY mont­gomery@wash­post.com

What the ap­pre­cia­tive, English­s­peak­ing fam­i­lies clap­ping in the church base­ment don’t know is that the part-time per­former has a se­cret. Hand­some in his tight, black mari­achi suit, Miguel Cortes men­tions it in Span­ish af­ter he takes his bows, but no one un­der­stands. So he just smiles.

Not long be­fore, im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties in Raleigh, N.C., gave Cortes 120 days to leave the coun­try. If he doesn’t go back to Mex­ico vol­un­tar­ily, he will face de­por­ta­tion and crim­i­nal charges, with lit­tle hope of re­turn­ing le­gally. He can com­ply with the or­der — or he can dis­ap­pear and take his chances. Or maybe a lawyer will win him a re­prieve.

Above all, he has his fam­ily to con­sider: His wife and daugh­ters en­tered the coun­try with him il­le­gally 12 years be­fore, but they have not been or­dered de­ported. Should he leave the them be­hind so the girls can fin­ish their ed­u­ca­tion?

Cortes makes his de­ci­sion in the new doc­u­men­tary, “120 Days,” by di­rec­tor Ted Roach, one of 28 fea­tures, doc­u­men­taries and shorts to be pre­sented Thurs­day through Sun­day dur­ing the Greater Wash­ing­ton Im­mi­gra­tion Film­Fest.

“Part of the trick was how do you tell an ev­ery­day story in a way that’s go­ing to be watch­able in a movie and watch­able for English­s­peak­ing Amer­i­cans,” says Roach, based in Chapel Hill, N.C. “That’s who I wanted to reach, be­cause that’s whose minds I’m try­ing to change.”

Roach had al­ready spent a num­ber of years work­ing in tele­vi­sion and film when the Cortes fam­ily be­came the sub­ject of his master’s the­sis in the film pro­gram at Amer­i­can Univer­sity.

“The rea­son that peo­ple don’t meet th­ese fam­i­lies is be­cause they have to hide,” says Roach, who will at­tend the screen­ing.

“Even if you in­ter­act with them on a daily ba­sis, you don’t even re­ally know they’re here il­le­gally.”

Only in its sec­ond year, the im­mi­gra­tion film fes­ti­val is show­ing signs of be­com­ing an in­sti­tu­tion. The to­tal of 28 films is up from 13 last year and in­cludes in­ter­na­tional se­lec­tions. Screen­ings will be in 16 lo­ca­tions, mainly churches and other non­profit venue­sup from 12 last year. A solid list of spon­sors and part­ners have joined in.

Many of the or­ga­niz­ers are nei­ther film pros nor im­mi­grants. They care about the is­sue and gen­er­ally fa­vor some kind of im­mi­gra­tion re­form.

“I think more than chang­ing minds, we’re try­ing to get peo­ple to pay more at­ten­tion to the role that im­mi­grants play in our life in Amer­ica to­day,” says Patti Ab­sher, are tired owner of a travel busi­ness and co-chair of the fes­ti­val. Other high­lights:

“Buen Día Ramón” is about a young Mex­i­can who fails five times to cross into the United States, so he goes to Ger­many, where he strug­gles to sur­vive un­til he be­friends a lonely se­nior cit­i­zen.

“On the Bride’s Side” tells the story of Syr­ian and Pales­tinian refugees who at­tempt to trek from Italy to Swe­den dis­guised as a wed­ding party.

In “Un­likely He­roes,” asy­lum seek­ers in the Swiss moun­tains put on a play to win the un­der­stand­ing and re­spect of lo­cal res­i­dents.

“DREAM: An Amer­i­can Story,” by Alexandria-based film­maker Aldo Bello, fol­lows Juan Gomez, who came to the United States from Colom­bia when he was 2 and grew up speak­ing English. His par­ents were seek­ing to es­cape Colom­bia’s civil war, but their ap­pli­ca­tion to re­main in the United States was de­nied. They stayed any­way.

Bello uses Gomez’s story to ex­plore the ac­tivist move­ment of young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants known as Dream­ers.

“Th­ese young peo­ple who were not fully cit­i­zens were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the po­lit­i­cal process,” says Bello. “They’ve been do­ing it de­spite all the odds. It’s been quite incredible to watch.”

Gomez’s par­ents were de­ported, but he grad­u­ated with hon­ors from Ge­orge­town Univer­sity in 2011 and landed a good job with JPMor­gan Chase. Still, he could not se­cure his im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus here.. He moved to Brazil and took an­other job in fi­nance.

Gomez is sched­uled to fly from Brazil to join Bell oat the screen­ing of “DREAM” Satur­day evening. It will be their first re­union since Bello’s cam­era watched Gomez board the air­plane two years ago — and a chance for oth­ers to meet the bright young man Amer­ica would not ac­cept.

“We’re try­ing to get peo­ple to pay more at­ten­tion to the role that im­mi­grants play in our life in Amer­ica to­day.”

Patti Ab­sher, fes­ti­val co-chair

BRAD ALL­GOOD/SAMMY SLATE PRO­DUC­TIONS

In di­rec­tor Ted Roach’s “120 Days,” Miguel Cortes, a hus­band and fa­ther, must de­cide whether to leave his wife and daugh­ters in the United States so his chil­dren can con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion; re­turn to Mex­ico alone; or change his name and live il­le­gally with his fam­ily in an­other U.S. city.

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