During a festival which fills Austin to the brim with unusual sights and speakers, that may not leave many opportunities to reflect on the city itself. And yet, Building the American Dream does just that, forcing us to turn our attention toward the construction workers who have literally built the skyline and paid the price.
The documentary, by Austinite Chelsea Hernandez, follows three different families across Austin and Dallas, all of whose lives have been impacted by loss within the corrupt construction industry. For one family, this loss is financial. For the others, it’s familial, having lost brothers and fathers to on-site accidents. Together, they represent the state of construction work in Texas, where one in five workers are denied payment, and every two and a half days a worker dies.
The film explores the dual threats of wage theft and personal injury with a determination that doesn’t shy away from the political. Hernandez brings us into City Council meetings and charts the Trump administration’s plans to end DACA. While these issues often get elevated and then abstracted in media, Hernandez instead allows the families to lead the tone of the documentary.
While Building the American Dream offers sharp lessons for every viewer, Texan audiences especially may find the themes of worker’s rights and immigration particularly pressing. Hopefully, Hernandez seems to entreat, local viewers will also find it motivating.
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