Life On the Line

Coming of Age Between Nations
Year Released
Film Length(s)
27 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Life on the Line follows a year in the life of 11-year-old Kimberly Torrez as she and her family await the visa that will allow them to return to the United States after unforeseen circumstances trap them in the border-town of Nogales, Mexico.

Featured review

Life on the Line tells the story of millions of children whose lived realities epitomize what mestiza-feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa called a struggle of borders through a close-up look at one young girl who bravely tries to hold her family together in the face of great economic, social, emotional and political assault. As an antidote to the commonly xenophobic and dehumanizing public attitudes and policies surrounding illegal immigration, this film offers a heartfelt and humanizing portrait of a one of the most pressing issues of our time. This short film provides rich analytical fodder for teachers of Anthropology, Sociology, and Women's Studies classes to explore transnational families, hybrid consciousness, the quest for belonging, and the frequent dramaturgies of citizenship marked by rupture, liminality, heartbreak and hope.
Clara Magliola
Sociology and Women’s Studies Professor, Chapman University


Just two years ago, the Torrez family looked a lot like many American families: Mexican-American with immigrant roots, multilingual and multicultural, working class with two kids in public schools getting a decent education, living in a mid-sized American city and weathering the economic downturn with any work the primary bread-winner could find. But in an instant, everything changed. After fourteen years of living undocumented in the U.S., Vanessa Torrez crossed into Mexico when visiting her dying mother, and as the only family member without U.S. citizenship, was not allowed to return to her family in the U.S. So the Torrez family left everything behind and moved to Nogales, Sonora, committed to remaining together. Now, while the family lives in a dilapidated public housing compound at a dangerous border crossing, Kimberly must cross the border daily on foot to go to school in the U.S. Meanwhile, her father, Rick, finds himself unemployed, stricken with Hepatitis C, and in dire need of a liver transplant. Vanessa travels to Juarez to obtain the visa that will allow her to live in the U.S. with her children if her husband dies. Told through the eyes of adolescent Kimberly over the year in which her family is forced to straddle two countries, Life on the Line offers an intimate story from a quintessentially American place, illuminating the changing face of America and the impact of our immigration policies through the story of one girl and her family.


Life on the Line twists the straight iron fence between the US and Mexico into question marks not followed by simple answers. Kimberly crosses the border of childhood into adolescence as she goes back and forth between countries every day, and as she matures, she joins the viewer in taking the conundrums of the border more seriously and personally. This short film will provoke profound conversations about immigration reform in living rooms and classrooms across America.
Jim Burklo
Jim Burklo Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California, Pastor, United Church of Christ. Environmental and social justice advocate, Arizona-Mexico border
The filmmaking approach to Life on the Line elegantly interweaves observational scenes with interviews, animation, third party news clips, and text cards that help advance the story as needed. Life on the Line is a social issue film that eschews pedantic instruction and sentimentality in favor of subtle and empathetic storytelling. We don't generally go along for the ride unless we can empathize with the characters––and the filmmakers successfully elicit our compassion, which fuels our curiosity and reveals a more nuanced way of looking at the world. Life on the Line doesn't provide easy and formulaic answers. Instead, it successfully does what the best documentaries do: it transports us into someone else's life, shows a different perspective, and leaves us thinking.
Helen Hood Scheer
Documentary Filmmaker and Professor, Diablo Valley College

Awards and Screenings

Director Commentary

In directing Life on the Line, we enjoyed learning about a topic that is totally relevant to our lives and to the lives of so many here in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where we're based. Los Angeles is 51% Latino, and both here and in Orange County we're not far from the border. We live in communities that are largely Mexican, Salvadorean, and Guatamalan, and learning first-hand about some of the issues that most affect these populations was extremely eye-opening. Getting to spend almost three years traveling off and on to the border region to delve into the lives of teens, and in particular teenage girls, was rewarding, educational, and fun.

We've now screened in several other states (and countries, including at the Mexico International Film Festival where we won an award), and the film has been well-received amongst a diverse set of audiences. Kids, in particular, resonate with the film, as do immigrant populations of a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. Anyone who comes from a mixed-culture or has a mixed identity (which includes the vast majority of Americans) tends to connect with the film.

As far as outreach, we are aiming to reach over 1 million people through our broadcast and outreach effort. We hope that the film, through its broadcast, reaches viewers who would not otherwise have seen the film, and ideally impacts people who previously felt no connection to the issue of immigration. Our goal with the film was to put a human face on a traditionally faceless issue; an issue that's divisive, that's in the news often more around policy and legislation rather than through an emphasis on the lives actually touched by these policies. Our film aims to put a name and a face to the abstract stories that one hears about immigration. So our hope us that viewers are affected by Kimberly and her story-- that they don't forget her.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • DVD Extras
  • Subtitles
  • Transcript
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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