When it comes to the hot-button immigration debate, They Live Here, Now is such a timely documentary-fiction hybrid.
What director Jason Outenreath did in the lead up to making this film was get to know the residents of Casa Marianella. The emergency homeless shelter in East Austin, Texas, is run by volunteers. In getting to know the residents of the shelter, Outenreath tells their story but he also hired actress Regina Casillas to play Nayeli. Even though Nayeli was a scripted character, she brings these real stories to life in an important manner. Nobody, other than the filmmakers, knew that she was an actress going into production. It’s an interesting choice and offers somebody a way to see life through someone else’s lens and experiences.
Casa Marianella has been running since 1986. In the 30-plus years of existence, the shelter has played host to people from 40 countries across the globe. These aren’t just any people. They are people who come to America in search for a better life as they flee their homes due to violence, persecution, and war. At the same time, there are people in America that don’t want them are. What did these people do to you to make them turn away? Does nobody remember the words of Emma Lazarus, author of The New Colossus in 1883, whose words appear on the pedestal on the Statue of Liberty.
In telling the stories of Juan, Mario, Gladys, Anbesagir, Raad, Anonymous, Mario, Hasan, and Liban, viewers get to know them as more than just an immigrant. If people actually took the time to get outside of their bubble, maybe they’d have a different stance when it comes to immigration.
As important as the film is, the subtitles appearing on screen could have been larger. Please keep this in mind if you’re planning to watch on a laptop or tablet someday in the future. Some films have subtitles large enough to read them and pay attention to the action taking place on screen. This isn’t one of those films but it doesn’t take away from just how important of a documentary that it is.
They Live Here, Now may be told in a style that blends fiction with reality but don’t let it take away from how important it is to be on the right side of history. One won’t be able to watch this film without empathizing with the immigrants at the heart of the debate.
DIRECTOR: Jason Outenreath
CAST: Regina Casillas, Abel Valdez
DOCUMENTARY SUBJECTS: Juan, Mario, Gladys, Anbesagir, Raad, Anonymous, Mario, Hasan, Liban
An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, They Live Here, Now premiered as a part of the Documentary Spotlight program.