Dinner with Desecho
How much were you interested in the question of illegal workers? Do you have further projects on this theme?
As an immigrant living in the US, I’m always intrigued by immigrant tales. Illegal immigration is one of them, but more accurately, this film depicts labor trafficking. The workers in the film, with the exception of the foreman, are modern-day slaves. The inspiration for this film comes from the time when a friend of mine was getting her house renovated. One day, she found a handwritten note that was left at her door. The note was from a worker, in “Spanglish”, claiming to be compensated for his work. He left his phone number so I called the man. I learned that he was subcontracted by someone my friend didn’t know. I promise I would look into it. So, my friend, who legally had hired a construction company, called the contractor who said it was a misunderstanding and that they would solve it. My friend never heard from that worker again and never knew what happened. Days later, I called that worker, but his phone had been disconnected. I pose the question: who are the people building the homes of America? What do we know about them? Where did they come from? Who hired them? Upon further research on illegal immigrants working on construction sites, I learned that similar cases depicted human labor trafficking. This is a form of modern slavery occurring in the United States and globally. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 21 million people around the world are trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived, and which they cannot leave. Contractors and employers become traffickers of labor, making false promises of high-paying jobs and luring desperate people into atrocious working conditions. Far different from promised, the employers exert such physical and psychological control that victims believe they have no other choice but to work long hours for little or no pay. America’s obsession with cheap labor has led to a complicated immigration policy intertwining the everyday American life with the global transgressions of labor trafficking.
Did you do research on work-related accidents on construction sites?
Yes. Work-related accidents on construction sites are common. But it’s hard to track how many involved illegal workers. In all honesty, the genesis of this story comes from these questions: what happens when an illegal construction worker gets injured on a construction site? What if this is a trafficked worker? If the trafficker has equity on each one of these individuals, would he dismiss the injured one? Let him die? Send him back? How does the trafficker maximize his equity?
Do you have the official count of illegal workers dying each year as a result of a workplace accident?
It is hard to track how many illegal workers die each year as a result of a workplace accident, but I will say that incidents for labor trafficking get a lot less attention by media in comparison to incidents of sex or child trafficking. It’s important to know that 11% of human trafficking correspond to labor trafficking. My intention with Desecho is to shed light over this grim world and focus on the vulnerable lives of illegal construction workers. I hope people in this country become more aware of their relationship to human labor trafficking. As Americans, we should be more inquisitive of those who work on the upgrading of our living style. We should care more about them. Speak up. Let them know that they do have rights despite of what they have been told. This is a disease that has latched on many industries in the US. Hard to believe? Just think of the pretty red apple sitting on your dinner table. Who picked it? Labor trafficking does not happen somewhere else. It happens around us and, arguably, we are all responsible.
How did you work on the film’s rising tension? What was your interest in showing the hierarchy levels between the characters?
The rising action and the hierarchy levels between characters are connected with the questions and research posed above. The main character is the foreman, the middle man between the contractor and the workers, the slaver and the slaves. Naturally there’s animosity between the foreman and his crew. Yet, the foreman wants to protect his crew from the contractor’s abusive methods. So, when the accident happens, they know this is a bad situation for all of them.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
Short film storytelling is an art of its own. Once you detach yourself from mainstream media habits, the freedom is overwhelming. For this film, we didn’t have time for rehearsal and we went into production without a shotlist. We knew we wanted to improvise and experiment with long takes and some coverage. On set, we discovered after working with the actors and the crew that there was need to cut for those coverage shots. As a result, the story is told in very few shots.