SXSW Documentary Gives Migrants in Austin a New Voice
Learning to listen with They Live Here, Now
As They Live Here, Now begins, one of the residents of Casa Marianella sits at the piano and plays a song. Fleeing gang violence or other political upheaval in their home countries, those living at Austin's emergency shelter for migrants converge into a large family of circumstance, bringing together their stories and hopes for the future. "Here at Casa Marianella, you meet a lot of people," he sings. "They come from all over the world for hope in a new life."
For his second feature, which he described as a hybrid of documentary and cinema verité, director Jason Outenreath set out to humanize the immigration debate. "There's a lot of hate out there, and I really see it as a failure of empathy," said the UT film grad and former Peace Corps volunteer. "I really don't feel that people are very convinced by political arguments, but people are very convinced by human connection. I wanted to bring an audience an experience in which they are just listening and learning from other people, and learning to relate to these people from all over the world."
The story follows a fictional 16-year-old Casa Marianella resident named Nayeli. Played by Mexico-based actress Regina Casillas, she enters the shelter with an all-too-familiar story. Her brother murdered by gang members in their hometown, Nayeli arrives in Austin having lost her mother crossing the border. Her only lead for shelter staff is the name of her father, who she believes lives somewhere in the city. As Nayeli stumbles through her first days in the U.S., viewers watch her set up an email account, search for her father on Facebook, and get legal advice on how to remain in the country.
Those are sensitive details that many migrants go through upon entering the country. Outenreath says the idea for creating Nayeli's character came out of his desire to do that lengthy journey justice, while at the same time maintaining the privacy of the actual residents. "There were aspects of the immigration process that I felt strongly we needed to include, and I felt that weaving this other narrative through the documentary would enrich the overall film."
As the story of Nayeli and her father unfolds, countless real-life inhabitants of Casa Marianella tell stories of gang violence and kidnapping, treacherous journeys to the U.S., and their hopes of navigating the country's impenetrable immigration system. "Documentary filmmaking for me is about listening," Outenreath said. "I really wanted the film to be profoundly shaped by the residents."
They Live Here, Now
DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHTSunday, March 11, 4:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Monday, March 12, 5:45pm, AFS Cinema
Wednesday, March 14, 1:30pm Rollins Theatre