John Drew is anything but your average young journalist-turned-activist. Drew and the bilingual crew of Border Stories--Clara Long, Sophia Dengo and Ben Fundis--recently returned from a hands-on filmmaking expedition along the U.S.-Mexico border. Fundis, Drew and Long traveled from Brownsville, Texas, to Tijuana, Mexico, to create a series of short films documenting life on both sides of the border, while Dengo acted as the group's Web developer. Drew says all of the videos from the trek are available now at borderstories.org.
What is Border Stories?
Border Stories is an ongoing multimedia project devoted to sharing stories from both sides of the line. The way we share those stories is through short, hyper-focused video installments, which we present online. The stories are geographically organized (from Brownsville to Tijuana). We crisscrossed the border the entire way. We went into people's backyards and asked them how the border is affecting them. We wanted to humanize the issue. Our notion is that by traversing the entire border and sharing voices and then presenting them in one place, people can begin to see how dynamic and complex the region is. The mainstream media is driven by pundit analysis. This is an opportunity to see where there's some common ground or empathy for the other side.
Why did you decide to make short videos for the Internet instead of a documentary?
We began discussing the prospects of using video to tell stories, and it became evident to us that the best way to do so, instead of taking a mainstream approach like a film or documentary, would be to do something that would have a longer shelf life. ... We wanted to have an impact, and the best way to have an impact would be to put the stories online. More people can see it as more people find it. In a traditional film format ... it's not always easy to get distributed if you're talking about a hot-button political issue. ... We broke the idea of a documentary into a series of shorts. None of the shorts themselves tell the whole story.
Is Border Stories your full-time job or a side project?
It is our job, although it's not for profit. It was a labor of love. We received a private grant that funded operational expenses like equipment and hotels. We are in the process of making it a sustainable not-for-profit organization. It's a work in progress.
Was it difficult getting people to talk to you during the trip?
It was all about the approach. We never pulled out the camera or asked people to talk about their relationship with the border without spending some time with them first. Some interviews would take 24 hours to unfold. It wasn't difficult to get people to speak. What was necessary, though, was patience. We had to befriend people and win their confidence. We were always frank about who we were. We are all bilingual. That was certainly to our advantage.
Is there any particular story from the border that sticks out to you?
They all have resonance, and each story is different. I do think what we did in Arizona was incredibly fascinating. In Arizona, we did five stories: two on the Mexico side, and three on the U.S. side. We talked to the founder of (Humane Borders). The organization was able to solicit funding from (Pima County) based on a cost-benefit analysis; they found that it was cheaper to provide water (for immigrants) than to remove their dead bodies. We juxtaposed that with a story about the Border Patrol. They were both American viewpoints about the same subject, and yet they're totally different. The Arizona stories capture how politicized the border is.
What's next for Border Stories?
The second stage of development is to get more money and go back and further some of the stories. We want to keep the Web site fresh as stories develop. Based on the response from the online community, we have reason to believe that we will get a second round of financing. The border itself is so dynamic; it's in a constant state of flux, and our stories will have a certain shelf life.
What did you take away from this experience?
... (I)mmigration, security, environmental quality, the sort of general consequences of globalization--none of these problems are going away. The border itself is going to continue to be a major flash point for all of them. Until we address them more adequately, they will continue to affect our lives. It requires a continued commitment to understanding.