In September 2008, I was participating in IFP in New York, a weeklong conference of sorts for independent filmmakers, when I met with Richard Saiz of ITVS. He told me about how he conceived of the FutureStates; he was interested in stories set in the future, but not in the Kubrick sense — really, more in the spirit of The Twilight Zone. You know, social issues gone awry: weird scenarios, not necessarily weird alien creatures. Okay, I can handle that, I thought — never ever having taken on any writing outside of small character-driven dramas … or dramedies (really hate that word). So, I set out to write a border story.
I’ve been interested in the Mexican-American border and all of its complexities, mostly because I’m a native Arizonan. The issue is everywhere if you grow up there. Most of the service workforce is Mexican, and whether or not one is legal is simply never discussed. I have memories of my mom talking about kids in her third-grade class in our town, and how their parents were coping, having come to the U.S. to seek a better life but finding significant obstacles here. The churches in our town would take in people no matter their circumstance, and I remember being impressed by this compassion — sheltering and educating people who for the most part simply wanted to work, educate their children, and find a way out of poverty.
As I grew older, and eventually relocated to New York City, the issue changed according to the region, but some of the elements remained the same. Upon seeing the excellent documentary Farmingville (2004, Carlos Sandoval, Catherine Tambini), I was amazed at how similar some of the problems were; fears on Long Island resembled fears in Arizona: people feeling migrant day laborers on Long Island or construction workers in Arizona might threaten their safety, take a job, or simply change the visual landscape of their lives. In Arizona, the issue had escalated over the years to the point where a rogue sheriff was making illegal raids on local businesses and encouraging profiling in traffic stops, looking for “illegals.”
What I wanted to do with this piece was to get at the way in which small interactions can hold tremendous power toward understanding, even in the most helpless scenarios. In some debates, the human face has been erased from the immigration issue. If we can work toward legislation that is both compassionate toward the human realities and also addresses the economic dependence our society has developed on this workforce — as opposed to throwing a fence around the problem to assuage abstract fears — we’ll be heading in the right direction.
— Annie J. Howell
Annie J. Howell, Director
Annie Howell has written and directed short films that have played internationally on the film festival circuit, including at SXSW, Newport, Full Frame, and Clermont-Ferrand. Her work has aired on the Sundance Channel, PBS, and the Independent Film Channel. Her screenwriting work, in development with New York production companies such as Locomotive Films (producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Joshua Astrachan), has been the recipient of a 2005 Nantucket Screenwriters’s Colony fellowship and the Grand Prize Award at IFP’s 2008 Independent Film Week. Her web series, sparks-series.com, will appear soon on Sundancechannel.com, where she also blogs about film and storytelling. Annie earned an MFA at NYU’s Graduate Program in Film and is currently Assistant Professor of Film at Ohio University. She has also taught at Duke University and at The New School, where she was the founding director of the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies.