I am a documentary filmmaker based in the American Southwest. Since immigration issues are front and center here, my most recent documentaries focus on immigration and immigrant communities. My new award-winning short, Soledad, is a unique look at the asylum process told firsthand by an asylum seeker from Central America. This brave woman, along with an all-women legal team, fight for Soledad’s right to gain asylum in this country.
I first met Attorney Shefali Desai-Milczarek when working on a short film with students in my Visual Storytelling and the Law course at the University of Arizona. I was so inspired by the women at the university’s Workers’ Rights Clinic and after just 20 minutes of talking with Desai-Milczarek, herself the daughter of immigrant parents from India, I knew I wanted to collaborate with her to tell the story of her recent asylum case. This was the beginning of our journey to make Soledad.
The challenge for me as a filmmaker was how to tell the story of a woman locked up in an immigration detention facility for over a year, when access to the facility is an absolute impossibility. Additionally, conveying the psychological experience of being held in such a horrific place, after experiencing gang violence and torture in her own country, would never be adequately accomplished through traditional video footage of the detention center. I began to think about how animation could be used to tell this part of the story. After a bit of research, I found Marta Lemos, a young animator based in London, who is also the daughter of an immigrant from Africa. Together, Marta and I came up with the ideas to convey the psychological experience of Soledad’s time at the Eloy Detention Center.
My proudest moment on the project was when Luciana, the undergraduate intern who helped me with the Spanish subtitles, told me she had decided to become an immigration attorney after watching the film. She now works for an immigrant rights organization and plans to attend law school.