* This doc is temporarily available to view on CBC’s Passionate Eye website here.*
I missed Which Way Home when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last Spring when I was in New York, so I was happy that it turned up at Hot Docs in Toronto a week later. I had a hunch that this film would move me.
I didn’t know anything about it beyond it’s description in the Tribeca FF catalogue, something about migrant children from Central America who, largely indepedently from their parents and families, make the fateful decision to migrate illegally through Mexico and into the United States. Many of them fail along the way – they are abducted, they injure themselves, they run of of funds and call home for help. Some of them die.
The bulk of the film is spent on the trains that cross Mexico where we were exposed to expansive shots of lush and dreamy landscape. We encountered several well-rounded characters like 14-year old Kevin, full of hope for a life and career in Manhattan, and nine-year old friends Olga and Freddy who hope to reunite with parents in the United States.
These children, we hoped as we watched, the filmmaker would be able to reassure us made it to safety… but Director Rebecca Cammisa told her Hot Docs audience that sadly, their fate remains unknown.
It’s an anguish for documentary filmmakers, who’s job is to witness and record an event with the purpose of communicating that event with an audience, to have to let go of the subject.
But there is a point when filmmakers must draw a line. For the directors of Which Way Home (Cammisa hired additional camera-people) the line was drawn somewhere approaching the Mexico/U.S. border where bandits and smugglers too often act with ruthless violence.
At this point the filmmakers stopped following the children because they decided it was too dangerous for them – for them! They who were traveling with health insurance and passports – not to mention sheer adult physicality.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism. I can only imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been to film these beautiful, hopeful and spirited children as they embark on what they imagine is their journey to a better life, when in reality most never make it safely to the U.S. They are caught at the border and sent to jail-like detention centres before being shipped right back where they came from. Or they suffocate in the trunks of smugglers cars. Or worse.
Yet Which Way Home is a testament to a child’s huge stores of hope and courage while it puts a face on the realities of illegal immigration.
Which Way Home airs on CBC News Network Sunday January 24th at 10 PM ET/PT. Click here for details.
NPR interview with director Rebecca Cammisa including transcript.