CAPE COD FILMMAKER FINDS A WORLDWIDE AUDIENCE WITH 'DYING TO GET IN'
Sarah Hutto- Sarah@MooncusserFilms.com
Brett Tolley- firstname.lastname@example.org
Chatham, MA- On a summer day in 2005, Chatham filmmaker Brett Tolley stood in Mexico looking up at what he later called, "the ugliest thing I've ever seen." The twelve-foot high steel barrier separating Mexico and the United States is dubbed "the Wall of Embarrassment" by migrants, due to its adornment of white crosses, each one representing a border crossing fatality. Brett was so affected that he extended what was supposed to be a five-month-long study abroad program into a seven-month-long one-man production trip for his first documentary, Dying to Get In: Undocumented Immigration at the Mexico / U.S. Border. Using a small, unobtrusive home video camera, Tolley won the trust of a group of migrants making the trip, embedded himself with his gear among them, and made the trip at their side. The resulting gritty, first-person perspective of his lens was a new take on a subject already distantly tackled in the nightly news.
"I don't think I could have made this film any other way. I would meet Mexicans, tell them what I was doing, and then ask if I could film and ask some questions. They would be like, 'Uh, OK. How are you going to do that? Where do we have to go?'. I'd reach into my pocket, pull the hand-held camera and say, 'Actually right now, right here, we're rolling."
The then 21 year-old filmmaker was increasingly inspired with each desperate story he heard. His sense of danger and a fear for his own safety increased as he crossed the sites of so many deaths along the border, steeling his resolve to get this perspective told. "I wanted to help everyone I met but I had to keep my focus on the view through my camera. The hardest thing was watching little children who didn't know what was happening. I wanted to walk with them to make sure they crossed safely. I had to tell myself over and over again that the best way I could help was to do a good job with the video, not to stop shooting."
Despite his towering frame Brett managed little by little to gain the trust of his subjects. "I was clearly vulnerable in being a lone American with them, which made me pretty non-threatening," says Tolley "and my video equipment also fit inside one pocket of my shorts. That was a big help."
After editing the forty-minute documentary himself Tolley traveled America, from political and religious gatherings to countless film events, in his ambitious effort to share his experience and the insight he gained crossing the border himself. In 2006 the film won a handful of festival awards, including the local Plymouth Film Festival, was picked up for distribution by Mooncusser Films of Chatham and, and in 2007 it's still breaking ground, making sales internationally and digitally to the educational market.
"Brett's film started out as a student project but there's a global interest in how the U.S. is handling this volatile immigration issue," says Mooncusser Films sales agent Sarah Hutto. "With the distribution channels that Mooncusser has opened up for its own documentaries, we believe that as distributors, we can really help Brett to get this film out there. I don't know of any other production where you can see a Mexican border crossing from a first-person perspective, so there's a need for this to gain a wider audience."
On the political front, the core issue of undocumented immigration is only worsening. Despite the rising death toll, global economic forces entice an ever-increasing number of people to risk their lives crossing the border to Texas, California, and New Mexico, but until now the issues has been relatively shrugged off by the American population. Tolley is hopeful however. In the year since its initial release, the documentary has slowly but steadily become a catalyst of immigrant awareness, even moving one North Carolinian town to form a committee addressing immigrant rights issues in the church and in the community.
Dying to Get In has been the subject of some ugly backlash too. Though there has been some quite vocal support, an opposing stream of even louder criticism from those repelled by the film's message has erupted on its MySpace project page (http://www.myspacedyingtogetindoc). Profane and harassing comments are often left in response to the internet trailer there, but Tolley feels the negative attention in itself proves that the film is reaching its target audience, those most in need of a first-hand view of the border-crossings and the reasons they occur. In Tolley's wildest fantasies, his documentary will be viewed by millions, resulting in a complete overhaul of our America's immigration policy, with amnesty included for the who've crossed. But in lieu of the unlikelihood of the wall being torn down, he will settle for simple humanization of the Mexican immigrants.
"Brett's got big plans for the film in the coming months and so do we," said Hutto. "In the near future months we're inking deals with a half dozen online video channels, including Amazon Unbox, Netflix, Google Video, Jaman, and Tivo subscription. Independent distribution is evolving exponentially in the age of YouTube."
Earlier this month, Brett was presented with the 2007 Digital Video Award in the Long Format News Category for Dying to Get In. The film has also gained recognition as the Most Socially Relevant Documentary at the Hollywood Film Festival, was voted a Finalist at the Angelus International Student Film Festival, the Best Student Film at the Plymouth Film Festival, and was an Official Selection at the Arpa International Film Festival. Upon his return to the United States Tolley took a job in New York City where he continues to embed himself in a new way in the immigration issue. He teaches English as a Second Language in a small Hispanic Brooklyn community to and tutors immigrants through the trying process of becoming legal citizens.
The trailer for the documentary can be seen at http://www.MooncusserFilms.com. Libraries and educational institutions can also order the dvd there. For additional information or a sample copy, Contact:
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