After five months, dozens of interviews and more than 40 hours of video, “The Border” reflects the nature of their subject: complicated, with many different perspectives.
The students interviewed state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 1070, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. And they talked to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a vocal supporter of the law, known for his crime-suppression sweeps that critics say target immigrants.
The teenagers traveled to the border twice, interviewing people on both sides. They rode along with the group Humane Borders, which provides water to people who cross the desert. They got statistics from an agricultural economist and stood at the fence with Border Patrol agents to see their perspective. They talked to a college student who is in the Valley illegally, fighting for the Dream Act.
“As we moved forward, we saw all sides,” said Jake Lipson, 17, a senior who served as producer. “We saw all the valid points, and it became more about the issues than about partisanship.”
“And from that, we realized why there are no quick solutions,” senior Danny Miller, 17, said.
“The Border” was accepted into the Phoenix Film Festival this month, and the team entered shorter versions into two student competitions: C-SPAN StudentCam and Student Television Network.
The other student filmmakers are seniors Yihyun Jeong and Josh Kanter, 17, and juniors James Harkins, 17, and Myles Kramer, 16. All have taken classes in the media-communications department at Arcadia, an east Phoenix school a few hours from the Arizona-Mexico border.
Several of the students went to the STN competition in California last year, where their media-communications teacher, Paul Hoeprich, encouraged them to watch the other students’ documentaries. That prompted them to consider the project when school started in August. SB 1070 was a hot topic then, and they decided to tackle it.
“Other kids are so amazed we’re doing this because they’re not educated about it,” Jeong said. “We weren’t educated about it either.”
The teens said they had those moments of pure luck that every filmmaker hopes for.
“The first person we interviewed in Nogales (Sonora, Mexico) was a man who was waiting for his wife who had just been captured trying to get across,” Lipson said.
The group also traveled to Lukeville, an Arizona town south of Tucson, where they approached the border fence. When they got within about 20 feet, Border Patrol agents drove up and talked to them.
“It was really surreal to see it,” Harkins said. “They told us how in all these rundown houses there are sentries that tell when the Border Patrol is gone.”
The group learned basic skills such as how to call a government office and set up an interview, and how to deal with adults in positions of power. They also used creative problem solving. During one of the trips, they forgot to sign out a microphone boom pole from the school, so they tied the mike to a stick during filming.
No school money was spent on the documentary beyond using the school’s equipment. The project was not a class assignment, and they’ll receive no grade. The students shot the film after school and on weekends. They’re still editing, mostly during their lunch periods, and hope to add an interview with Gov. Jan Brewer, said to be possibly available this month. The final version in the film festival will be about 65 minutes.
The students realize “The Border” might draw criticism not only for addressing a controversial topic but to the school for encouraging it.
“I would argue that the schools are obligated to teach us about the issues,” Lipson said. “The school isn’t telling us what to think, but how to investigate.”