« Finding They in As One, An Opera on Transgender | Main | From the Ruins of Appomattox, a Second Opera »

Finding Family Stories in the DC Immigration FilmFest

The Greater Washington Immigration Filmfest runs this year from October 22 to 25, 2015, in often non-traditional venues in and around the Nation's capital. In the first two days, Dresser saw two outstanding films Buen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón and On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa).

With the current situation of mass migration of refugees, particularly from Syria, into Europe, both films provide timely insight into what today's immigrants are facing.

Ramon.jpgBuen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón by Jorge Ramírez-Suárez is a fictitious saga of a young Mexican man who tries unsuccessfully five times to cross into the United States. A friend suggests that he should go to Germany where this friend has an aunt living there with a German boyfriend. He surmounts the travails of traveling abroad based on a hard-earned windfall only to get the door slammed in his face in winter weather. When he tries to return home, he can't afford the surcharge for returning earlier than planned and so he panhandles in front of a small grocery store where he becomes friends with a lonely old woman named Ruth who gives him shelter and access to the other pensioners in her building. Eventually his luck runs out (he is denounced by a crotchety neighbor) and he is deported back to Mexico.

While Ramón never learns many German words during his short stay in his protector's care, his ability to communicate through dance and willingness to work is so infectious that he earns a lifetime of financial benefit from the ailing woman. One scene particularly stands out where they are both speaking animatedly of their lives and backgrounds without the other being able to understand the words. Ruth details how her father protected a Jewish family during WWII at great peril to himself. Ramón who is not particularly religious sees her as his guardian angel.

A talkback session at the Goethe Institute after the film with Julián Escutia (Mexican Embassy) and Victoria Rietig (Migration Policy Institute) provided invaluable insight about the reality of this film, including the number of Mexicans immigrating to Germany and how successful they are in staying there. While the numbers are not large, at the time this film was made (2013 and released August 2014), not very many deportations were taking place. Now, however, immigration and deportation policies are changing rapidly in Germany and other parts of Europe.

On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa) by Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele del Grande, and Khaled Soliman al Nassiry is a documentary that was released in November 2014. The premise of the film is a group of Italians escort five illegal immigrants (Palestinians and Syrians) from Milan to Sweden. Using a cover story that they are a wedding party, they travel three thousand kilometers while unfolding the harrowing stories of these refugees. One of the Italians is a newly naturalized Palestinian poet who lets tears fall as he explains that he has never had a country to call home before. The drama of this documentary resides with these unrehearsed immigrants: an old married couple who had never traveled before, a father and his teenage rapper son who barely made it alive from Syria to the Italian coast, a young man who played the bridegroom, and a young woman who played the bride.Bride-Side.jpg

Gabriele del Grande, both co-director and player in the film, provided in-person answers to a large audience at the Washington Ethical Society viewing the film. He said part of the magic of making this film happen was the young woman from Palestine masquerading as the bride wearing a long flowing bridal gown on the entire trip. He said there was only one instance where police approached them and that was as they rode a train from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Sweden. Given the open borders of the European Union, they all knew the most difficult part of the trip would be through Denmark where they would encounter a more conservative approach. However, the Danish police interaction was merely to say congratulations to the bride and bridal party. This was an un-filmed episode that del Grande said they could hardly ask the Danish police to re-enact given they could all be arrested.

Kudos to the organizers of the DC Immigration Filmfest as led by Patricia Absher. The two films seen by the Dresser were greatly enhanced by the talkback sessions following each film.

In "What I Am Taking Home," Joseph Zealberg speaks to the stories of family life across generations and events like war. Both Buen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón and On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa) are rooted in family life, the actual biological lineage and the new bonds under difficult circumstances that become familial as immigrants-refugees enter territories as unfamiliar as the outer space mentioned by Joe Zealberg.


The teal color, the black collar of my father's jacket.
The air around the aluminum cane he leans on
now that he can wield it like an M-1 with fixed bayonet.
Mother waving from the condo's second floor window
as if my son and I were embarking on a spaceship journey.
No buttered warm cornbread or a cherry cheesecake slice,
no purple borscht heavy with sour cream.
Maybe something from the cosmos, the blessing of their eyes.
An old Yiddish tune she sang before the Holocaust.
Dad as a child, hiding in Dirty Eddy's Bar--
watching Tuffy Craig pull a miniature Chihuahua
from the pocket of his old miner's coat.
How "Dog" wobbled the bar, licking a whiskey trail.
And the story of my grandfather, Joseph,
who wanted my father to learn the construction trade.
Too young, Dad looked up at the wooden scaffolding and cried,
I don't want to climb up there, Pop, I'm afraid!
Joseph pranced on the tallest angle of the roof,
laughing, kicking his feet, outlined in clouds.
Yes, my parents--like that. Dance steps on a beam.

Joseph Zealberg
from Covalence

copyright © 2015 Joseph Zealberg


Post a comment

Use this form to place a comment to a post in the blog. You must include a valid email address for spam protection. Please see our Privacy Policy for details on how your private information is used and protected. Your comment will be posted as soon as it is reviewed by the blog editor.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 24, 2015 3:42 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Finding They in As One, An Opera on Transgender.

The next post in this blog is From the Ruins of Appomattox, a Second Opera.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.