As described by the producers of Home is Somewhere Else, “The brilliance of animated documentary is that it can provide an imaginative space to envision someone else’s story.”
Now being shown at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, this charming and provocative documentary by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos is an arresting and sensitive portrayal of the human turmoil wrought by harsh immigration policies at the US-Mexican border. The 87-minute film, in Spanish and English with English subtitles, focuses on the children of the borderland, telling how their daily lives are shaped by the fear of losing family members through deportation. The stories are framed by Lalo, a young artist who introduces his characters in his Spanglish poetry slams. They include sisters Evelyn and Elizabeth, separated by the border wall; and Jasmine, whose life was uprooted when her father was arrested and deported. In the third segment of this excellent film, Lalo himself talks about his own transformative struggles in organizing protests against ICE and their tactics.
As the film’s producers say in their synopsis: “This 2D feature ‘animentary’ features three personal stories about immigrant youth to highlight the complexities and challenges they face today. Voiced by the actual children and their families, the stories are woven together by spoken word poet Lalo ‘El Deportee’, the film’s host and MC whose vibrant ‘Spanglish’ breaks codes, switches standards, and pushes the viewer to decipher his poems. Each story has its own unique visual animation style drawn by three different teams. The animation allows us to truly see and feel these characters’ worst nightmares, alongside their colorful hopes and dreams for a better future.”
Framed by Lalo’s slam poetry, who calls himself “El Deportee,” Home Is Somewhere Else presents stories of hope and frustration, all told in the words of the young dreamers whose lives are directly impacted by the harshness at the border. Telling the story via animation rather than “real life” makes it possible to enter the inner lives of the characters in a more intimate way. Some of the most striking images, for example, include a scene where a young woman’s frustration at learning English is depicted by showing her drowning in a sea of ever-changing words and letters. Another scene shows us leaves scattered by the wind to convey a sense of so many young people being blown about aimlessly. Unfortunately, reading the English subtitles often cause the viewer to miss some of the visuals, but perhaps that is the fault of monolingualism.
Directors Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos have ample experience in the animation genre: Both are cofounders of Brinca Animation Studios, which have produced many projects involving children and human rights issues. Home is Somewhere Else deserves to be required viewing for anyone interested in the plight of the borderland children, whether supporters or detractors.
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