Jeanette Vizguerra entered the First Baptist Church of Denver in February of 2017, seeking sanctuary from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which aimed to deport her. After 86 days, she left, having brokered a deal with the government to allow her to stay in the country until at least March 2019. Document Ed, a nonfiction film now in production, will tell her story.
The project is the brainchild of local filmmaker Alan Dominguez, who will serve less as a traditional director and more as a project manager, organizing students who will create the project. The film has recently been awarded a grant by Denver’s Imagine2020 fund.
Imagine2020 is the city's initiative to fund arts, cultural and creative projects to engage residents and ensure that the arts remain a vibrant part of city life. This year's winning projects were each awarded $5,000, and in the case of Document Ed, the money will fund the first phase of the film’s production, primarily providing stipends for the students involved and paying for local professionals – including Davis Coombe, editor of such critically acclaimed films as Chasing Coral, Keep on Keepin’ on and Being Evel, and Daniel Junge, the Oscar-winning director of "Saving Face" – to serve as the students' mentors.
“The film will be a way to engage the community and not only tell Jeanette’s story, but the kids’ story as well,” Dominguez says. The "kids" are students from Colorado Early College and are either undocumented immigrants themselves or come from undocumented families.
The documentary will have two narrative strands. The first will follow Vizguerra and others using sanctuary laws to fight deportation, and the second will focus on the students themselves.
“This film within a film – the meta film, if you will – how these kids tell Jeanette’s story, the story of sanctuary cities and immigration, while they themselves are undocumented, will be the real story.”
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“The project will give the kids a chance to gain real-world experience in the film industry, experience that would normally be impossible for kids this young and with their background of being undocumented to get," adds Dominguez.
To help control production costs, Colorado Early College, where Dominguez teaches film production, will serve as a sponsoring institution. The school will provide access to professional production equipment and post-production facilities.
“Without the support of CEC, we couldn’t do this,” says Dominguez. “They’re a vital part of the program’s success, and I’m grateful to have them involved.”
Dominguez ultimately wants to screen the film for as wide an audience as possible. With completion projected for fall 2018, he says the project will be perfectly situated for film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW and our own Denver Film Festival. And with a run time of 26 minutes, which is industry standard for commercial broadcast, his team will be able to target outlets such as Rocky Mountain PBS and, hopefully, national PBS or even HBO.
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But the Imagine2020 grant will only fund the beginning stages of production. According to Dominguez, the project will need more money for post-production.
“Students can only do so much,” Dominguez says. “At some point we’ll need to do a professional sound mix, get music professionally licensed and have a professional score made.” His hope is that winning this grant will help raise the profile of the project and make finding completion funds a bit easier. “I’m currently researching other grants,” Dominguez continues. “And, of course, we haven’t ruled out the go-to of film financing: Kickstarter and GoFundMe.”
Dominguez says his film is both a timely and vital contribution to the current immigration debate.
"Kids can sometimes get to a truth that adults can’t; they sometimes say things unfettered that we as adults can’t,” he concludes, “It’ll mostly be the kids doing all the work, writing all the questions for the interviews, asking the questions and shooting the interviews. They’ll get some guidance from the mentors, and I’ll basically be like a producer to oversee them, but it’ll mostly be their project, their story.”