By Erin Reilly ’20, Editor-in-Chief
An Oscar-nominated director is responding to the growing border crisis by bringing his documentary to St. John Fisher College.
Robert Bilheimer and his small but mighty production team at Worldwide Documentaries are releasing an urgent ten-minute documentary short called Oh Mercy.
Worldwide Documentaries is in the process of producing a series of feature documentaries about the global refugee crisis called Running to Stand Still, with Oh Mercy — a film about what’s happening on the US/Mexico border — being the first of those films. The feature version of Oh Mercy is set to be released in 2021, but in the meantime, a ten-minute short that summarizes the crisis is being released as soon as possible.
The goal of the preview and the ten-minute short is to encourage people to pay attention to this crisis and to care enough to do something about it — and possibly vote about it.
A virtual screening for the Fisher student body is in the works. Further details on the screening will be provided once they become available.
The main point of focus in Oh Mercy is the migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum seekers and forced migrants await their asylum hearings in the United States. “What happens is that these people moved north through Mexico and arrived at the U.S. border, specifically in a town called Matamoros, and because of U.S. immigration policy, they were just stopped cold in their tracks, hence Running to Stand Still,” Bilheimer said.
Bilheimer describes the living conditions that these forced migrants find themselves in upon arriving and living in the detention encampments such as the one in Matamoros. “It’s gotten to the point where, after a year, people are experiencing desperation and despair and they’re taking chances to get across into the so-called ‘promise land’ and they’re jumping in the Rio Grande river and what’s happening often is that they’re drowning and dying.”
These conditions exist mostly because of the Migrant Protection Protocols that exist under the Trump administration. Also known as the “Remain in Mexico” protocol, this immigrantion policy requires Migrants to await their hearings on the other side of the border, where gang violence, famine and horrible living conditions are the reasons why these people left their homes in the first place.
The ten-minute short focuses on the encampment, the stories of asylum seekers, and those who have a hand in helping these migrants, such as Sister Norma Pimentel, who was recently listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people. It also includes the voice narration of Glenn Close, and music by Bruce Springsteen.
Bilheimer noted that they’re using the powerful medium of film to bring this issue to the attention of the general public, something that hasn’t been done just yet in this capacity. “The U.S. is a land of immigrants and its known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but we’ve not been very good on this issue, particularly in the last three to four years,” Bilheimer expressed.
The first and most urgent component of Oh Mercy is its preview, which Bilheimer and his team are hoping will be a conversation starter just in time for the upcoming election. It includes the powerful voice of Sister Pimentel, among others, and aims to bring light to the border crisis in a visceral way before it’s too late. “There’s no reason in my view when you’re aware of that kind of suffering, to delay,” Bilheimer said.
The end of the preview, and the tagline of the film, reads “A film about who we are.” When asked about this phrase, Bilheimer expressed that it can mean a multitude of things. “[The phrase] just jumped out at me right away because I think that the fact that this is happening says a lot about either who we are, or who we’ve become, as a nation that historically has welcomed people like the people that are now stuck in the detention camp in Matamoros.”
The tagline sends a message about the state of the nation in its regard to its neighbors, but can also be in reference to those who do push for an end to the suffering of the forced migrants and asylum seekers. “I do think there are a lot of people out there that do care, so I think that line ‘who we are’ includes those people too. There are good people, and that’s who we are as well. Sister Norma Pimentel is part of who we are. So I think you can look at that tag in a lot of different ways,” Bilheimer noted.
“It’s about who we are, who we’ve become, and who we are going to be. These forced migrants have forced us to ask this question, and we have a responsibility.”
The preview to Oh Mercy has just been released, and the ten-minute short is set for release in November. In the meantime, join in on the conversation and share the Youtube link to the preview.