NETWORK OF ENTERTAINING ASIAN AMERICAN TALENT
LOST & FOUND follows Stephanie, an undocumented student at UCLA, as she attempts to regain what she’s lost
A CAMERA AND A DREAM
by Lori Kido Lopez
For Tam Tran, making videos has always been a way of communicating her message to the world. In 2007, as a Visual Communications Armed with a Camera Fellow, she made a film called LOST AND FOUND that told the story of a friend named Stephanie who struggled to regain her identity when she realized she was undocumented. She’s been showing the film around the country to stir conversations about immigration reform. And when she testified before Congress at age 24 in favor of the DREAM Act to help undocumented youth gain citizenship, one of the key parts of her testimony was in another video she had made. When she returned from Washington DC, the impact of her messages and videos collided in a stunningly Orwellian moment—federal agents raided her parents’ home and arrested her parents and brother. After Tran’s flurry of phone calls to lawyers, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and a congresswoman she had just met, her family was released, but they had to wear ankle bracelets and return home by a certain time each day or else they would be detained again. Although she cannot say for certain that her testimony lead to her family’s detainment, she is still angry that they were treated so terribly and vowed to keep doing exactly what she had been doing—making movies and fighting to change the structure of immigration in this country. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” said Tran. “Now my parents understand why I do immigrant’s rights activism. If anything, ironically, this whole mess of events made us closer as a family.” Tran’s film, LOST AND FOUND, is showing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 6, at 7:30PM, at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy.
Although she can’t make it to the screening herself, the film’s star Stephanie will be there. “Stephanie is going to go and represent the film. I think in a way that’s going to be even cooler because it’s one thing to see an undocumented person on screen, but to see her in the flesh will create another kind of intense reaction for people watching the film,” said Tran. Tran first discovered her passion for filmmaking and activism as an undergraduate at UCLA, where she learned to make grassroots, guerrilla-style videos. Since she hadn’t had the opportunity to learn any of the technical aspects of filmmaking, she jumped at the opportunity for mentorship and guidance under VC’s Armed with a Camera program.
As a Fellow in 2007, she was able to participate in workshops that taught her skills like cinematography and lighting, as well as share her treatment, rough cuts, and finished film with a cohort of like-minded young filmmakers. “I remember when I got there it was really cool because there was a mix of people with different experiences,” she said. “This film has been the most intense intellectual and emotional one that I’ve ever worked on.” Since finishing LOST AND FOUND, Tran has used the film to do outreach to unions, schools, and community organizations. Others have also been requesting it to show at their own schools and in their own communities at a rate so fast that she can barely keep up with all of the requests, but she’s excited about the fervor it’s inspired.
“Sometimes it’s hard to put a face to the issue and describe the struggles that people go through with their everyday lives,” she said. “With the film you see Stephanie’s childhood and also her day to day activities. She wants to get a hold of these legal documents, these government documents that show who she is. I think her experiences are something a lot of undocumented youth go through.” For Tran, the film is also a reminder of her family’s situation. They have legal status in this country because they immigrated from Germany 18 years ago after escaping Vietnam, and since Germany refused to allow the family to return, they have to stay in the US. But they have exhausted all of their avenues to citizenship and can only hope that something like the DREAM Act will pass. The DREAM Act would give the children of illegal immigrants the opportunity for citizenship if they earn a high school degree and complete two years of college or military service. “I think immigration enforcement means you don’t have a life if you’re an undocumented immigrant. They’re telling immigrants you have to work and pay taxes, but when you do, like my parents and brother, they’re going to restrict your freedom so you can’t go to work or school,” said Tran. “It’s just really messed up essentially. I still have a really emotional visceral reaction.”
Tran is now pursuing a doctorate in American Studies at Brown, where she hopes to incorporate ethnographic filmmaking into her academic research. She’s been able to take film and other visual media courses so that she can learn more about communicating the politics of immigration through storytelling. “ I want to combine all of the things that I love to tell the story of millions of people who are stuck in this broken immigration system,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
Tickets for LOST AND FOUND are $12 general and $10 for students, senirs and members of Visual Communications, JACCC and DGA. Tickets are available at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
Tran’s film, LOST AND FOUND, is showing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 6, at 7:30PM, at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy.