Meadows Workshop Helps Immigrants Create Film

Behind the Reality details immigrant experiences, airs on KERA and on campus

Thanks to a semester-long film workshop led by Assistant Professor of Film and Media Arts Amber Bemak, eight Latinx women who immigrated to Dallas from Mexico and Central America created their first short film, Detrás de la Realidad (“Behind the Reality”), a moving documentary about people who left Mexico and Central America to move to the United States. The project is a collaboration of SMU Meadows School of the Arts’ Ignite/Arts Dallas initiative; the Community Action Network, a program of Bachman Lake Together; and the Meadows School’s Division of Film and Media Arts. 

The film, which will be shown free of charge on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. in the Bob Hope Theatre at SMU’s Owen Arts Center, touches on the subjects’ fears, challenges, and hopes of a better future, particularly for their children. The thoughts shared by a handful of mothers, a daughter and one father are at once intimate and harrowing: They describe great hopes for their new life in the U.S., but also describe the emotional and physical tolls of their experiences.

Throughout the spring semester at the Bachman Lake Together Family Center, the eight women learned how to use cameras and sound equipment, on loan from the Division of Film and Media Arts at SMU. During the classes, all of which were taught in Spanish, they also learned how to tell a compelling story through the medium of film. The women – all of whom are young mothers – came up with the film’s story arc after several discussions about what should be included.

“We had weeks of just talking and crying and laughing – everybody cried when we were writing the script for this,” said Bemak, who has held similar workshops in Kenya, India and Nepal. “The women got really close. This was a group that shared openly with each other, so the film came out of an emotional room.”

Helping Bemak with the classes were two SMU Meadows film students, Jocelyn Alvarado and Sarah Orr. “Jocelyn wrote a beautiful script in my screenwriting course about immigration,” said Bemak. “It was her grandfather’s story of how he immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. I invited her to be part of the workshop. Sarah is interested in making documentaries about human rights, so I invited her. For future workshops, the hope is to develop the program more, and do this with more students across Meadows, not only in Film and Media Arts.” The workshop began in January. The group shot approximately 15 hours of footage in April, then in May did a solid week of editing, for which Bemak brought in Ben Perez, a former student of hers from when she taught at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“We edited eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday, all the way up to the first screening at Bachman Lake Center on that Sunday,” said Bemak. “We flew Ben up from Guadalajara to be the editor and to demonstrate how to edit. All the women made the choices as a group, which is really complicated. Ben operated the editing equipment and taught them as they went, and did an amazing job.”

Bemak said that a second workshop is underway for the fall semester, during which the women will create and edit a new film, with Ben again serving as an editing mentor.

In addition to the free screening at SMU Meadows School on September 21, Detrás de la Realidad has also been picked up by Dallas’ PBS television station, KERA Channel 13. On October 10 at 10 p.m., KERA will air Detrás de la Realidad during its “Frame of Mind” series.

filmmaker-dinnerClyde Valentín, director of SMU Meadows Ignite/Arts Dallas, would like to see such workshops continue with Bachman and other neighborhood service organizations. “This project, combining Professor Bemak’s artistic and pedagogy practice with an enlightened community partner like Bachman Lake Together, exemplifies the ways creative collaboration can serve the missions of both our organizations, benefiting students and participants alike,” said Valentín. “Our students get to learn experientially how this work impacts the community, and the participants can grow in new and unexpected ways while experiencing the power of their own voices through storytelling.”

All of the women taking part in the workshops are part of Bachman Lake Together’s Community Action Network.

“Bachman Lake Together is an organization that provides resources and information for young mothers who have immigrated, mostly from Mexico but also Central America,” said Bemak. The organization, which is supported by multiple Dallas-area organizations such as Avance, BB&T, Catholic Charities, Public Works Dallas, United Way Metropolitan Dallas and more, works to give Bachman Lake-area children a strong foundation for their first five years so that the children can begin school ready to learn.

The film workshop and screening have been made possible through the generous support of Communities Foundation of Texas and The Meadows Foundation.

Read more about Ignite/Arts Dallas, SMU Meadows Division of Film and Media Arts, Assistant Professor Amber Bemak, and Bachman Lake Together.