The lives and humanity of immigrants coming to the United States were the main focal point at last week’s screening of “Letters from our Elders,” a film produced by local creative group Buenpaso Collective.
The feature gives the viewer an honest, intimate look at the lives of people who have left their nation of birth in search of better living conditions and the themes through which these stories converge.
Director Aaron Freeder said to La Prensa San Diego that he originally began the project by capturing scenes at protests after the 2016 presidential election, with the concept evolving over time to include footage of protests against the 2017 Muslim travel ban and immigration-related subjects.
“Immigration became a focus of mine as I was seeing what was going around and what was happening in Los Angeles,” Freeder said. “I was later personally inspired to start to share my grandfather’s story about how he went all over the world during the Holocaust.”
Through its running time, “Letters from our Elders” shares first-hand accounts from Haitians in Tijuana waiting to be granted refugee status in the United States, DACA recipients living their lives after the program was rescinded, and testimony from Freeder’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, given to the USC Shoah Foundation.
Despite the wide scope of narratives, the film does not lose focus in sharing the intimate details of the people depicted. The portraits of the individuals shown speak of a humanity seldom seen in mainstream news coverage of these issues, and often overlooked in favor of political statements in other art mediums.
The story of Osmar Abad, a DACA beneficiary and a cousin of executive producer Edwin Cruz, is featured in one of the film’s vignettes, in which he is depicted as a someone who is both empowered and a member of a greater activist community.
“He isn’t portraying himself in a way that is weak, or how media wants to portray DACA recipients; he is very educated and intellectual,” Cruz said. “What you see is a profile of him helping out his community and something that extends beyond himself.”
Despite the film being a work in progress, the production team believes that screening their film is significant due to the way the conversation surrounding immigration has shaped up.
“We think is important to show it at this point in time even if we are continuing to work on it,” Cruz said.
“It is a heavy, candid story, and it is hard to absorb, but it is important to focus on these stories and people right now,” Freeder pointed out.