Case Study: In Danger of Deportation

A virtual reality documentary series that allows users to put themselves in the shoes of some of the people most at risk of deportation under the Trump administration.

Almudena Toral is an award-winning Spanish visual journalist and filmmaker based in Miami. She currently teaches video storytelling at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, besides pursuing her own projects worldwide. She is passionate about multi- platform storytelling, human rights, health and gender issues, the global south and immigration policy, among others.

Nacho Corbella is an International Emmy award winning filmmaker, visual storyteller, educator and consultant. Storyelling is his passion. Be it in the field shooting and interviewing, behind the desk editing, teaching in a classroom environment or giving workshops throughout the States, he is always trying to tell powerful visual stories.

Both of them have now worked on a virtual reality documentary about so-called “priority cases” in the USA that are under threat of deportation.

“Because they are undocumented immigrants, trust was a huge issue, as well as fear.”

"Priority Cases"

“We are reporters at Univision News Digital in the United States and we are not the only ones to be surprised by Donald Trump’s presidential win in the U.S. in November of 2016. Mr. Trump’s presidential win presented an array of implications for the immigrant community in the United States. We immediately started thinking about how to put audiences in the shoes of undocumented immigrants in the country – those that we knew would be most affected by new immigration policies. In Danger of Deportation (360/VR) was the result, and it premiered and aired on Univision Digital’s platforms on January 20, 2017, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration.”

“Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the new Trump administration announced to deport “priority cases. Already during his first week in office, president Donald Trump implemented new and aggressive immigration executive actions. For undocumented immigrants who arrived recently, have a criminal record or belong to any of the ‘priority categories’, the future is uncertain. A group of reporters have now documented the stories of seven of these undocumented immigrants with 360° video cameras and created a virtual reality experience of their lives.”

“The characters in the film are all undocumented and from several countries in Latin America. José, 67, Mexican is at risk of deportation for an old DUI charge. Imelda and her husband, also Mexican, have sons in the army and are protected by Parole in Place” (PIP) but could lose this privilege if Trump decides to touch this executive action. Diana, from Honduras, whose deportation was put on hold because of not being a priority case with Obama, could face deportation now with Trump’s changes. Valeria, Colombian, a dreamer and DACA beneficiary, is at risk if Trump gets rid of DACA as he has promised. And Valdemar from Guatemala, who arrived recently to the US with his daughter, has an electronic ankle monitor and can be located and deported at any time.”

Before the shooting

“Our film is a documentary so we started writing the script as we were filming and getting documentary interviews done. The whole script writing and editing process took about a month and a half maximum. We probably wrote over 20 versions of the script, and definitely changed it during shooting because of the journalistic and documentary nature of the project.”

“In order to prepare for the production we researched the legal cases contacting lawyers, non-governmental organizations and immigration experts. We found individual characters that corresponded to those legal cases we editorially wanted to focus on and then started filming. Because this is documentary, actors are not really acting. They are real people in their real lives. It was probably a total of 10 shooting days, and the funding came from Univision News.”

Challenges of the production

“The production went relatively smoothly, except for a few characters that did not participate in the end and for the challenge of gaining the trust of the final characters. Because they are undocumented immigrants, trust was a huge issue, as well as fear. We had to understanding their situations and we explained the project thoroughly. Their decision to participate (or not) had to be respected. We finished shooting a bit later than expected because of some unexpected scheduling difficulties with our characters.”

Editing and sound

“Several of us edited. Everyone was in charge of one character’s story and then all of these bits were combined into a new documentary structure. We had several revisions and edits. To create the sound we worked with stock music that Univision News pays for. We usually like to work with composers but we had a tight schedule with this project.”

Spreading the news

“Once the piece aired at Univision News Digital, we presented it to several film festivals and conferences. In some of them or the most traditional festivals it didn’t fit because of the 360/VR format. The project won Best Virtual Reality Short at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards and was selected for the European Cinematography AWARDS (ECA), Underground FilmFest, I’m Not Gonna Move to L.A. and Shift Film Festival. It was also a finalist for the French American Foundation Immigration Journalism Awards.”

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