Across the U.S. and Mexico border, asylum seekers live in temporary camps waiting to get into the United States. Many of these refugees are living in poor conditions, waiting for a better life in the U.S.
In June of 2018, Andrew Cline, a journalism professor at Missouri State, visited Brownsville, Texas with his friend, Shane Franklin, to take part in protests about the tent camps at the border. He never thought a documentary would come out of the experience.
During the trip, Cline and Franklin met Josh Rubin, the documentary’s subject, through a mutual friend. They got a chance to see the Tornillo tent camp shortly after it was built.
Rubin mentioned he was going to feel guilty going home to New York after seeing all the struggle at the border. He ended up going back to protest alone.
For weeks, Rubin stood at the border, holding signs and posting what he saw on Facebook. Eventually, people started showing up to protest with him, starting the Witness at the Border organization.
Cline and Franklin had the idea to document Rubin’s protest and began to produce a film through Carbon Trace Productions, a non-profit production company founded by Cline.
The documentary is called “Witness at Tornillo,” with Franklin as director and Cline as executive producer.
“Witness at Tornillo” has shown about 30 times so far in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City. They debuted in New York with two sold out screenings.
“This is the first of the eight films (Carbon Trace Productions) completed so far that (has been) distributed beyond Missouri and beyond standard film festivals,” said Cline.
After the positive feedback from “Witness at Tornillo,” Carbon Trace is creating a sequel called “Witness at the Border.”
Cline says the sequel is “going to be primarily a story about the refugees in the camp in Matamoros, which is the largest of the tent camps along the border.” “Witness at Tornillo” told Rubin’s story, and “Witness at the Border” will tell the stories of the refugees in Matamoros.
“Witness at the Border” is a natural progression of Rubin’s story and the effects the Witness at the Border movement has made on the immigration issue.
“It’s about the asylum seekers that are waiting in a makeshift refugee camp on the other side of the port of entry in Brownsville in terrible conditions, and they’re being preyed upon by cartels,” Franklin said.
“The film goes right into that camp and speaks to people and gets their stories,” Franklin said.
The camp is temporarily home to between 2,000 and 3,000 asylum seekers trying to come into the U.S. fleeing poor living conditions from primarily Honduras and Guatemala.
“At the end of the day,” said the film’s producer, Shannon Cay Bowers, “we’re all just people trying to do what’s best for our families … I just don’t think that it’s fair or acceptable at all to keep anyone out of the country if they’re just trying to make a better life for themselves.”
Franklin says their goal is to inform people who otherwise wouldn’t hear about these issues.
“They don’t get the opportunity to hear the stories of the asylum seekers themselves, and that’s the most important thing I want to do. I want to convey their stories to the audience,” said Franklin.
Cline said the border issue is a topic of international importance.
“As a former journalist and journalism professor and a person that has an interest in documentary films, I am interested in telling important stories,” he said.
Cline, Franklin and their crew have already spent two weeks filming for “Witness at the Border.” He plans on going back to Brownsville and Matamoros over spring break to film more.
Franklin expects the sequel to premiere sometime later this year. Bowers is hopeful it will be finished by the end of summer while Cline is predicting the release around December.
Carbon Trace is always looking for student volunteers and donations. For more information, visit carbontrace.net.