Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"A Checkpoint in Claremont:" a Collaborative Video


      I decided to work with the Day Laborers again, or as I call them, "the guys," to keep up the exploratory concept (for me) of collaborative film.  What I think I ended up with looks a little more like Teatro Callejero or Teatro Campesino except on video, which I am still OK with.  I have been catching up on Revolutionary Film History in Latin America and in reading have realized that when women filmmakers joined the scene so to speak, that they made mostly video rather than "film" and that they used it to interrogate gender and gender roles rather than (public) politics.  In working with the guys, we discuss gender from time to time, such as when someone stereotypes based on gender, makes a gendered remark or insult, or refers to women as anything other than women.  However, because the issues they face on the day to day are less about gender than about race, color and nationality, we made a video that was more pressing to them.  I did become interested in A Man, When He is a Man, a 1982 film by Chilean filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento while reading up on women in the male-centered Revolutionary Film movement in Latin America.  The film is a documentary on "macho" culture in Costa Rica though it is meant to be read as referring to Latin America in general.  The idea of interviewing men and capturing the machismo intrigued me, but when I thought about the guys, I just couldn't imagine making a film about them that would expose their biases.  It made me realize that I: 1.) Idealize the guys for being such hard workers and 2.) can't imagine truly collaborating on a video centering on a subject that is foreign to most of them.  I realize that in a post about a film not about gender I have spoken a lot about it, but I think it is because I am already brainstorming for my next project which will have gendered aspects.  And since I will be working with a new group in a gender context (a gender and video project) then the subject can easily be collaborative.

   What the video is centered on is the issue of DUI/Sobriety/Drivers License checkpoints.  Checkpoints are a relatively new police practice.  Since the 1979 case of Delaware v. Prouse that decided that police cannot stop random vehicles for the sole reason of checking their licenses “there has been a proliferation in the use of sobriety checkpoints by state law enforcement authorities.”  (Francis)  The intended purpose of sobriety checkpoints is to “ reduce the number of drunk drivers on our highways and diminish the amount of pain, suffering and death that result from drunk driving.” (CHP)   The bulk of the arguments regarding checkpoints have been legally based, as some groups find them to be necessary to prevent drunk driving and are therefore are willing to infringe on the civil liberties of drivers.  Others however find them to be too invasive and unconstitutional.  The major issue that most people make regarding the legality of checkpoints is the fact that so many vehicles are impounded.  This relates to the 4th amendment’s “unreasonable searches and seizures” clause which states that the people have a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. But because this amendment originally applied only to the federal government, the post Civil War 14th amendment of 1868 is also important because it made it applicable to the states.  The probable cause and warrant requirements for the 4th amendment have been subject to several exceptions carved out by the courts for the benefit of law enforcement.  The latest exception is the checkpoints based on the states interest in public safety.  (The border checkpoints exception was based on national security.)

   Checkpoints are one of the main issues that we organize around in the Inland Empire as in many other places.  We send text messages, facebook statuses and make phone calls when we know of a checkpoint location.  We hold vigils, go to city council meetings, hold and post signs warning drivers of checkpoints coming up.  But as much as I have researched checkpoints and try to spread the word, there are just never enough "Know Your Rights" trainings.  The corner might have some of the same guys for decades, but at the same time there are new guys coming in and out every day, man of which have no idea what to do in situations like checkpoints or any kind of police run-in.  Though I am not a lawyer, I know that we have the right not to incriminate ourselves, which is why I emphasize that in the film through the fictional phone advocate in the beginning (played by the famous Undocumented, Unafraid, Queer and Unashamed DREAMer Julio Salgado) and in the end with the inter-title that yells at the audience.  The video, though made with jornaleros in mind, is hopefully just a beginning.  The guys have already been talking about the next videos and what we should do when I get back from Central America and I am excited to make a film based on some of their experiences.

    I originally planned to make this project for my independent study with Jose, the super brilliant jornalero from Una Mirada a Los Invisibles and Machete Discussion, but after making plans, sharing revolutionary film manifestos and films with him and brainstorming together, his phone got turned off and I was on my own again.  It was a great reminder that this video/my independent study class is by no means the priority of a worker nor an easy luxury to be a part of.  So I ended up going a little backwards because my idea was to have horizontal decision making and idea creating, but I ended up where I was before with “Una Mirada” (not that that is bad!).  This meant recruiting guys who were interested, explaining everything, and making decisions together during the filming.  The guys, Pancho in particular, had a lot of ideas that I used.  For example, Pancho wanted to be a drunk driver which worked out as I could show that he could pick his car up the next morning while unlicensed drivers had to wait 30 days.  Pancho also had the idea of the actors faces being shown at the end with their “names.”  We all ad-libbed the whole time, though there were many times that one of us had an idea for a line and we would re-take the encounter.  For example, my brother jumped in to be an additional police officer midway through the filming and I think it worked out very well that way since though it was funny having JuanLoco be the officer, we needed someone less likeable.  Though we ad-libbed, I knew I wanted to use inter-titles a’la La Hora de Los Hornos.  I wanted to try the completely anti-neutral, pro-action route, though I couldn’t bring myself to go as far as using cut up B roll footage with voiceover. 

    I also knew I wanted the video to obviously be a video.  This was with Hungry Cinema  and Imperfect Cinema in mind in terms of cost and accessibility.  The video looked low budget because it was.  Also, I think that the video came off as fun because we had a lot of fun, but also serious for those who are affected by laws like 287g and vulnerable to expensive court hearings and impounds, jail time, and deportation.  The video is already getting some play with the anti-checkpoint crowd and has raised demand for a more activist oriented video that is less for what unlicensed drivers should do and more about how allies can organize and protest checkpoint policies.  This will be a whole new kind of video as it will have a different audience, but it is equally as important.  I showed the video to the guys twice already while doing our weekly computer classes and it sparked some conversation along with a lot of laughs at each other.  They seemed to enjoy watching the video and seeing that most of the cast was themselves or their compas from the “cachetero” and made they guys who weren’t in that video ask about the next one.  So though I am incredibly excited about this video and so happy with the way it came out, I am equally excited about what is going to come next.

    One thing that I need to work on which revolutionary (or New Latin American Cinema) filmmakers discussed, is the aspect of distribution.  Of course things have greatly changed because of the ease of using Youtube to distribute digitally, but if I were to truly be involved in distribution then I would organize screenings for more than just my internet network and the guys.  That is one project I need to work on.  I think that when I get back to the US then it would be great to show a few of the films back-to-back since they are short.  For now, I am thinking about how to lean as much as possible on Jorge Sanjines’s ideas about collaborative film while keeping in mind that revolutionary cinema is a male-centric genre for my next video project in Guatemala City.

Works Cited

“Sobriety Check Points.” California Highway Patrol. 11 Nov. 2008.  17 Dec. 2008 <>.

Francis, Eustace T. “Legal Development: Combating the Drunk Driver Menace: Conditioning the use of Public Highways on consent to Sobriety Checkpoint Seizures - the Constitutionality of a Model Consent Seizure Statute.” Albany Law Review 59.599 (1995).