by Jessica Mosby
- USA -
Though the United States is a country of immigrants, immigration divides the culture and fuels an endless debate clouded by strong emotion on both sides. Over 11.3 million people are living illegally in the US and three-fourths of these illegal immigrants come from Latin America, having crossed the Mexican border to enter the country. The Department of Homeland Security wants to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico to stem this flow, a move equally hailed and derided—depending on the perspective of the commentators. The federal government has also increased efforts to arrest and deport illegal immigrants, often under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts. But on the other hand, some states are proposing giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses, and, while official policies forbid employing them, illegal immigrants can easily find jobs in agriculture and construction. Even with unlawfully low wages and exploitation, they will make more money than they could in their home country. There are no easy answers to this incredibly complex problem.
Borovac’s background as a Bosnian immigrant by way of Germany makes the film especially intriguing. He and his family left their home in Bosnia in 1994 because, “There was no hope that the long-raging war would end any time soon.” After living in Germany for six years, he left his family and immigrated to the U.S. as part of a refugee program. The program required him to live near his sponsor, who lived in Monterey, California. With a love of photography and journalism, he decided to attend California State University Monterey Bay’s Teledramatic Arts and Technology program.
In my interview with him, Borovac discusses why he made the film, the process of making a low-budget independent documentary, and what he hopes viewers will take away from the film’s raw footage.
Why did you decide to make a documentary film about immigrants at the Mexican-American border?
A great friend of mine and remarkable photographer Nico Mavris was already involved in using still photography to expose what was happening in the border lands. On my first trip with Nico, I used two photo cameras, but I felt that I could tell a better story if I captured it on video. Soon enough we were down at the California and Arizona borders with Mexico with full gear and no script, filming and interviewing everything and everyone we thought would help us understand what was going on. It came as a shock to me that things that I saw were happening so close to where we live peacefully.
How did your own immigrant experience influence your decision to make Turn Back South?
My own experience did not play an active role in my decision; however, some of the situations we filmed felt familiar to me. My life experience had more of an effect after I had already decided to make the film. It helped me find the humanity in the situations. I felt like I understood the people involved.When did you become interested in documentary film?
I developed a love for photography quite early in my life and was always passionate about filmmaking. I studied photography for a while and rapidly became interested in the journalistic aspect of it. It was just a matter of time I realized that documentary filmmaking is really what I’m after.
How did you fund the production of Turn Back South?
Out of our own pockets, mostly mine. We also got a CSUMB Capstone (graduation) Grant which helped us with postproduction of the film.
Did the film program at CSUMB help?
Definitely. CSUMB has amazing equipment and great facilities for postproduction. I can’t give enough thanks to the entire TAT faculty, especially Caitlin Manning and Dan Janos. And again, they gave us that grant which we totally needed and deserved.
When and where did you film Turn Back South?
We started filming in late 2003, but most of the footage was taken over three trips in 2004. In 2006, we went back to get a couple more interviews, just before I was going to graduate. The footage was gathered in many places, including Tijuana, Bisbee, and Nogales. However the most important sites were Calexico, Yuma and Mexicali.
What was the most challenging part of making an independent documentary film?
Financing. Initially it would seem like that would not be the biggest challenge. This type of documentary filmmaking isn’t easy. I like travel, challenge and the guerilla-style filming we did. The combination of these three will create some tense situations no matter which part of the world you’re in or which border you’re at. You have to keep cool and smart, deal with everything going on, and still walk away with what you need. Even with all these and a great idea, you still can’t do anything if you can’t pay for it.
To get financing, you not only have to deliver, you have to prove that you can deliver before you have anything to show, and that’s tough.
Was it difficult to find people who were willing to be interviewed while the cameras were rolling?
No, it was not. People like to tell stories. The problem is getting them to say what they really think.
I know the film has played at a number of film festivals, how has the film been received?We won third place in the documentary section of the CSU Media Arts Festival. Also, the film was very well received at the Mill Valley Film Festival where viewers’ questions at the end of the each screening demonstrated the public’s interest in the issues surrounding our borders. The film played at the Boston Film Festival, New York City Shorts, and the International Film Festival in San Francisco. We are waiting for a few more submission decisions.
What would you like people to take away from Turn Back South?
I hope that this film sheds some new light on immigration and the issues surrounding it. We tried not to talk about politics, but to address the humanity in the whole situation. To show that it’s not just a cultural problem, a political issue, or an abstract concept. Immigrants and border patrol agents are real people who are on the opposite sides of the border. They are human beings whose actions and lives are being ignored because of today’s politics.
What are your future film-making plans? Do you plan to continue to make documentary films about controversial and political issues?
Well, the next documentary that I am part of is about comic books. I am working as a camera assistant. The documentary focuses on Al Capp and his work, comic strips such as Lil’ Abner, Daisy May, etc. This is a completely different type of documentary from Turn Back South, with entirely different themes. I have already started my next personal project, and we have already shot some footage. It is about Punto Guajiro, an ancient type of singing from the western provinces of Cuba.
To view the Turn Back South trailer, click this link, scroll down and click on the Movies tab.
About the Author Jessica Mosby is a writer and critic living in Berkeley, California. In the rare moments when she's not traveling across the United States for work, Jessica enjoys listening to public radio, buying organic food at local farmers markets, trolling junk stores, and collecting owl-themed tchotchke.