By Chris Giorgini
Special to The Communitarian
Roland Wu, a Portland, Ore. resident, is the cinematographer and co-editor of “14.”
The documentary is a look into the past and present day struggle of those either seeking U.S. citizenship or American citizens whose citizenship rights are challenged.
Wu, who graduated from Reed College with a bachelor’s degree in literature, met and started working with Graham Street Productions co-founder Anne Galisky, who produced “14,” through the musician that produced the musical score for the film.
Graham Street productions creates documentary films dealing with social issues for educational release.
“14” was shown at DCCC’s Marple campus March 2 in the Academic Building, between 11:15a.m. and 12:00 a.m.
I recently spoke with Wu about the making of the film and his thoughts on what it means to be recognized as a birthright or naturalized American citizen, as articulated by the 14th Amendment.
Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of being a cinematographer?
A: I really enjoy interacting with people and I find it’s a very specific and focused way of relating to people. Some people try to approach it like, let’s turn the camera on
and try to get the subject or interviewee to forget the camera is there. But I don’t approach it that way. Interviewing someone and turning a camera on is an opportunity to examine things in maybe a more focused and kind of a cute way. It’s a chance to kind of find a deeper truth about themselves or about their emotions or feelings.
Q: Why do you think the constitutional law of naturalized or birthright citizenship is being disputed?
A: The constitutionality of birthright citizenship in many people’s eyes is undisputed. But at the same time there are many people who put it into question. I really think that this is more motivated by a fear of different people or xenophobia. There is an attempt to shift conversation to such an almost extreme extent that the compromise gets shifted. So it no longer becomes how we can become inclusive in this country or how we can treat all people with a sense of dignity and respect. It becomes “Oh, we can agree on partial rights for people and second class citizens.” I think that’s a real worry, and something that as filmmakers is why we do what we do. It’s to try to expose these issues, but also give a face and real voice to undocumented people. Show what it’s like to be like these people and really suffer.
Q: Why release the film educationally instead of commercially?
A: It did have to do with who our target audience is. We really feel that college campuses, high schools, law schools, that’s
the future of the country. The places where people vary in age and are open to many new ideas. That’s not to say we’re opposed to releasing it commercially. We think at this moment it’s most important to get together and not just see the film, but talk about the film. It’s kind of creating a space for people to grow together and meet people with different experiences and create bonds. It’s something we feel strongly about, and we put our very limited resources, time, and energy into creating these moments.
Q: What is the message you want to convey with this film?
A: For myself, I would say the film is about human dignity and the mistreatment of people in this country. I think the country was founded on a paradoxical idealism. While it talks about freedom and democracy, it’s built economically on slavery and the nastiness towards the Native American people. The film is about the 14th Amendment. All people born in the United States are citizens. That’s an ideal, you know? Ideals are important for us as a country and for us individually because they remind us not to fight for only our rights and dignity, but fight for others. There’s a quote in the film from Frederick Douglass: “Slavery lives in this country not because of any paper Constitution, but in the moral blindness of the American people, who persuade themselves that they’re safe, though the rights of others may be struck down.” One thing I want the viewers to take after seeing this film is, “I might be ok, or comfortable, or have enough opportunities, but I still need to fight for the opportunities of other people who might be at risk.” And really, this idea of family and what parents and grandparents do to make their children’s lives better. That’s universal. It goes beyond U.S. history or U.S. politics and it’s always the case, no matter what time period.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Right now there is a lawsuit happening, the Perales Serna case, in Texas that is still in the early stages. Children of undocumented parents, who are 4 years old and younger and were born in Texas, are being denied birth certificates from the state. It’s important to underline that this issue of citizenship is not something that’s static; it’s not set in stone. Whether or not it’s in the Constitution, it’s being tested in Texas right now. It’s really a terrible thing that’s happening, and that’s my opinion, that we are punishing children before they can even read or right. We’re punishing them for who their parents are and what actions their parents took. I feel like that is very unjust and an unfair thing we do here. I’m really curious to see how it will unfold in the next month and years.