On September 5, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. About the same time, Campus Movie Fest came to UC Berkeley and loaned students filming equipment for seven days. The stars aligned, and second year Elena Mateus decided to make a documentary short to bring awareness, not only to the political issue but also to the individuals it affects.
First, however, she needed to find a subject for her film.
“I know it’s kind of a risky thing to ask for somebody, potentially an undocumented student, to come forward with their story,” Mateus said. But she soon found fourth year Oscar Valencia, another UC Berkeley student who she had met when she was a security monitor and he was a resident assistant. Valencia was hesitant at first, but he decided to join the project.
The short film, titled “An American Dreamer: Oscar Valencia,” features Valencia talking about his family, his experience as a “Dreamer” and his time as a college student. The film is raw and honest, showing just shots of Valencia talking and b-roll of Berkeley, using only Valencia’s charisma to drive the video.
“I think my main goal was to bring [the repeal of DACA] close to home to people because even if you’re not undocumented, it still affects people and lives around you that you might have no idea about,” Mateus said when asked about her goals for the documentary.
The film accomplishes this goal, turning the repeal of DACA from a political act to an act affecting someone just like you. The film shows its audience not only the political effects but also the real emotions that come with being an immigrant –– Valencia goes from openly emotional about his family and his own personal struggles in America to heatedly passionate when questioning how the government could punish children for being brought into the country.
“An American Dreamer” won the Tribeca Campus Docs Grand Prize at the Campus Movie Fest. Mateus’ film will be one of the eight to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival out of a pool of potential student films from all across the country.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” Mateus said, “but I’m so grateful, it’s so surreal.”
Mateus has been working on journalistic videos since her high school days, and she says she aspires to be a documentarian. Her winning piece is a short-form documentary, a film medium that she loves but has mixed feelings about.
“I enjoy long-form documentaries, but for the sake of how today’s media operates, I feel like you can reach a lot of people when they are shorter,” Mateus said. “That’s not to say that two minutes and 30 seconds can be representative of someone’s experience or life or struggle, but I think to reach as many people as possible, shorter, for me personally, right now, especially being in college, is more doable.”
Though her own film is only five minutes long, it is able to reach the heart of the issue without needing to go into too much detail.
Mateus will fly out to present her film and speak on a panel about her work April 28, though this may not be the last time she’ll see it on the big screen.
“I was talking to a professor, and she was like ‘you should submit it to more competitions,’ and I was like ‘yeah,’ ” Mateus said. “But I don’t know, it feels kind of cocky after we’ve already won something. But honestly the visibility and getting people to like see the film is so much more important.”
As for what’s next for Mateus, she says she wants to keep learning and to keep making content that will raise awareness for people and issues that may not be getting the attention they deserve.
“I want to do this so badly, and there’s such a need for this, in my opinion, that I would be a fool to not do it,” Mateus said.
While Mateus is the one flying out for the festival, she wants to make it known that the documentary was not a solo effort.
“I also wanted to really say how grateful I am for Oscar. He deserves all the credit and praise and everything,” Mateus said. “He was so brave in sharing his story, especially with the political climate right now. I want to make sure he knows how grateful I am for his honesty and vulnerability with me. All I did was press record and did some editing. It’s all him; he deserves that recognition because what he did was far more difficult than what I did.”
Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected]cal.org.