Having screened at the Austin Film Festival a few months ago, Ted Roach's "120 Days" garnered a lot of great press from both English and Spanish speaking outlets. Below are three articles the filmmaker wanted to share leading up to the film's ATLFF screening Wednesday, April 2 at 9:15 PM.
From La Tercera:
New documentary revives the immigration debate in the United States
The film “120 days,” which recently opened in Austin, Texas, tells the story of Miguel Cortés
By Antonieta Cadiz, Houston
President Barack Obama will soon break a record, the deportation of more than two million people in the United States. The new independent documentary “120 days” tells the story of Miguel Cortés, a man who must decide whether to follow the law and leave the country, or break it to keep his family together.
Its director, producer and editor, Ted Roach, just finished the first screening of the film at the Austin Film Festival. After four months of shooting and over two years of editing, he feels satisfied with the result. The goal was to put a human face on the country’s immigration debate.
Despite the lack of progress in the political arena, the issue has captured public attention after films like “Una Mejor Vida” (A Better Life), from director Chris Weitz, and the documentary “La Cosecha” (The Harvest), from director Roberto Romano.
In the case of Cortés, one traffic stop leads him to confront Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The government's response was clear: 120 days to leave the country voluntarily or be deported.
Roach accompanied the protagonist, his wife and two daughters throughout the whole process, which included taking responsibility for what was happening, evaluating the tough options, and then making the final decision.
None of the family has legal immigration status since they all crossed the border without papers in the late 90s. The current immigration system has no way to help them since they have no immediate family members who are U.S. citizens, which is basically the only way to justify Miguel’s stay in the country.
Obama has insisted that individuals like Cortés are not the focus his government’s deportations, and that their main objective is deporting criminals. Cortés however is one of the faces that show otherwise.
"In Mexico I have no home and no job, I would have to start over again," he says in the documentary. "We felt we were honest people, just working like everyone else, we weren’t causing any harm to anyone and we thought that provided some protection. But after this I realize there is no protection…just luck," says his wife, Maria Luisa.
So far, pro-immigrant groups nationwide have not had access to the documentary, but insist that this work has an impact on the political debate in the United States.
"When you can show the plight of separating a home through images, it helps bring others closer to see their (the Cortés family) case in terms they can understand. We are all similar in the love our families, "said Kika Matos, spokesperson for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the largest coalition for the rights of immigrants in the United States.
“The immigration debate is often spoken in a statistical manner that dehumanizes those most affected, and I thought Miguel’s story provided a perfect vehicle to show people the other side," says Roach. Despite the impetus given by the participation of the Latino vote in the last election, the long-awaited reform to the immigration system is stuck in Congress while millions await a change in the law that would allow them to stay.
Roach wants to give national distribution to his new film and hopes to collaborate with pro-immigrant groups so that 120 days has the greatest reach possible during 2014.
Film Director puts a face to the tragedy that thousands of immigrants are living in the land of opportunity.
By Damia Bonmati (EFE)
Austin, Texas – This weekend, the Austin Film Festival hosted the national premiere of the documentary "120 days", which is the time that the protagonist, an illegal immigrant, has to beat the clock and leave the United States and his family behind.
Miguel Cortés and his family, all Mexican immigrants without papers, become the visible faces of a documentary that does not conceal it’s intention to push for change in the immigration policy of the first world power.
The film's director, Ted Roach, was sure that he needed a face to represent the millions of undocumented people who live and work in the country: “If you see a personal case on screen, it is impossible to ignore it”, explained the author.
"The most important audience for this movie is the English-speaking American audience. I think the Latino population in the United States and abroad will be delighted with the movie, but to make something happen, the people that really need to see it are the white, Anglo-Americans," Roach explained.
And "to make something happen," according to Roach means that the U.S. Congress would promote comprehensive immigration reform, and a deportation policy that prioritizes humanity over legalities.
That is why the filmmakers are seeking major U.S. television networks like CNN or HBO to air the documentary, hoping that Congressmen and Senators in Washington will see it.
A real problem
"The American public knows this problem exists, but so far it has been easier to ignore it," says the film's cinematographer and producer, Brad Allgood.
In the opinion of the director, personifying the debate with the story of just one family shows "the human side that the media often forgets when disseminating cold statistics and blanket statements." He states, "That’s why we wanted to examine it from the very personal point of view inside a family."
The trigger for the deportation of Miguel Cortés was a traffic stop in North Carolina, where a policeman discovered that Miguel did not have a driver’s license. He was able to avoid immediate removal from the country through a $5000 bond, and a promise to leave the country within “120 days.”
From there, "120 days" shows the four months in which the Cortés family must decide what to do. Does Miguel return to Mexico without his wife and two teenage daughters? Do the four of them leave the country and return to Mexico together? Or do they disappear into the shadows, fleeing to another state and changing their identity?
A mutual acquaintance led the director to Miguel’s story, and what he calls the 'perfect character' for this debate: one example among the 400,000 deportations per year, where the victim does not have a criminal record, nor has he committed any crime apart from crossing the border illegally for the first time in 1998.
“All Miguel tries to do is provide a better life for his family. He works hard, he contributes to his community, and he wants to be accepted by his neighbors, not just make money. He is a very respectable and well-intentioned man," values Roach.
"The way that we got to know Miguel was like peeling an onion, and the better we got to know him through time, the more we began to realize that he really was the ideal person to challenge the current situation,” remembered the director in Austin.
"Miguel really is a great, model citizen..." added he producer.
"You mean a non-citizen," warned the director. "A great, model non-citizen," he corrected.
From the Austin Chronicle:
As the title implies, the central figure of Ted Roach's engaging 120 Days has a short amount of time to make a very important decision. After more than a decade in the United States, Mexican-born undocumented immigrant Miguel Cortes is pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Cortes is arrested and told he has four months to exit the country of his own volition or face imprisonment. The choice of whether to uproot his family from the life they've built in North Carolina, return to Mexico alone, or escape into the night (effectively turning his family into fugitives) makes up the core of the film. As the weeks press on, the family maintains a facade of normalcy – they go to work, pray at church, and teach traditional Mexican dance classes for elementary school children. All the while, the fuse of Miguel's time in America slowly burns to its inevitable, heartbreaking end. This sense of looming dread gradually transforms into lump-in-your-throat tragedy as the calendar counts down to doomsday. When the movie periodically inserts a clip of a cable news talking head warning about the dangers of illegal immigration, the partisan rancor seems woefully out of touch with the lives of the Cortes family. The insertion of national politics into this otherwise human-scale film is just as jarring an imposition as the effect of those politics on the lives of people like Miguel Cortes.
– Aaron Sankin