The time of the fireflies

Synopsis

Despite the loneliness he experiences living in New York, and the oceanic distance that separates him from his home, Miguel remains resiliently motivated to help this family he hasn’t seen in 13 years, sacrificing, again and again, his own aspirations. When Miguel opens a package from his mother, he discovers photographs that throw him back to his childhood in rural Mexico - a time when living in the US had been just a dream. These memories that have fueled Miguel's ambitions and altruism, are the same ones that keep him trapped in his past.

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About the film

Every Saturday, the announcement from the village’s private postal service resounds throughout the village: “we deliver packages to Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, New Jersey...". In that moment, the invisible but powerful threads that connect the disparate worlds of New York City and the small rural town are brought into sharp relief. The rest of the 52' film will work to document these ties and their implications in the lives of one family, exposing the personal, psychological and social repercussions of the political forces that divide them. Interviews, voice messages and phone calls between Miguel, Amado, Rafaela and Asunción, slowly intertwine to uncover their complex history. Through the juxtaposition of these testimonies, and reminiscences, the documentary acts as a cinematic reunification, where members of a family who haven’t seen each other in 13 years, are reunited on screen. ​

You will see a family attempting to come to terms with their past, their sacrifices and the distance that has defined their relationships. A mother is thumbing through an old photo album filled with memories from their time in New York: we see a photo of the city through an apartment window frame, we see a father, young and handsome, posing with the blurry, distant figure of the Statue of Liberty, and we see a young mother on a bridge in New Jersey, her eyes searching, the silhouette of the twin towers outlined in the city skyline. This photo album establishes an indelible link between the two worlds and expresses the collective experience of migration that defines life in the village. Migration is frequently a multi-generational experience for these families: parents and grandparents have established ties to cities in the U.S. that subsequent generations will often retrace. These ties are frequently governed by relationships of labor, and countless industries in the United States rely on the work of migrants (both seasonal and permanent), even as employers take advantage of the legal vulnerabilities of migrant populations. Significantly, migration is not just an individual experience or the particular economic decision of a single family, but a collective practice, repeated again and again by individuals and communities. It is a practice that links New York with this rural Village as closely as the American city is connected to Newark or New Haven. Our documentary portrays this interconnected history through the narrative of this family and in doing so questions the public’s conception of immigration: the protagonists have lived their lives on both sides of the border and their stories bear witness to the everyday ties that bind the United States and Mexico as well as to the political discord and violence that keep them apart. ​

Matteo (co-director) grew up in the same village as the protagonists, in rural Mexico. Among his classmates, two siblings—Miguel and his sister, Rafaela— struck Matteo as having a particularly moving and meaningful story. Throughout the time Matteo lived in the village, the relationship between Miguel’s family and Matteo’s family grew stronger. At the same time, a deep friendship emerged between Miguel and Matteo. With a strong partisan discourse in American politics, we felt that people like Miguel and his family were being deprived of their human qualities by hate speech and targeted policies. This is when the intention to create a documentary that would rehumanize the Mexican migrant community in the USA, became more urgent. We wanted to provide Miguel with a platform to tell his story, to let his words confront the common paradigm of migration within and outside the United States. ​

Through Miguel's words and philosophy, we experience a unique and resilient vision of the world. Despite the struggles and the loneliness he experiences living in New York, and the oceanic distance that separates him from his home, Miguel remains firmly motivated to help his family, and the people around him - sacrificing again and again his own aspirations to help others. It is his childhood memories that fuel Miguel's ambition and philanthropy and yet, these same memories hold him trapped in the past. At dusk, dozens of fireflies are flying past the camera, voices of children can be heard resounding in the darkness. Their silhouettes emerge from the high grass, catching and running after the blinking lights. Fictionalized reconstructions of these memories elaborate an intimate relationship between the child and the adult who, longing for each other's realities, have yet to part ways. The documentary, by seeking to narrate Miguel and his parent’s lives, draws a family portrait that gives a face and a voice to a complex issue we hear about on a daily basis. Stories like this one are only too often stigmatized, dramatized, or politicized, reducing our potential to empathize or identify with the people most affected. By prioritizing the characters being interviewed and by bringing their gaze closer to the lens, we place the spectator face to face with the characters of the film, allowing them to feel the intimacy and complicity that the team experienced during the shooting.

Despite current political rhetoric that portrays immigration to the U.S. as “an invasion” by “aliens,” “killers,” “predators” and “criminals” (words used by President Donald Trump over 600 times since 2017 to describe immigrants during his rallies), there is a long history of migration flows in particular between Mexico and the U.S., a history that has supported communities in both nations and created its own collective experiences of separation, reunion, precarity and survival. We were motivated to work together to accomplish a narrative that lacked a political agenda. Instead, we try to focus on the emotional lives of the family, their relationships, and their experiences of migration. This is not to say that this is an apolitical film: the opposite is true, for the lives of Miguel and his family are strongly affected by politics, and the very possibility of a viewer empathizing with Miguel stages political possibilities; and it is Miguel himself who embodies crucial possibilities for change and reform by emphasizing the importance of migrant’s rights and in particular access to education for all. ​

The Trump Administration has instituted a parade of anti-immigrant policies in recent years, including the policies of family separation, the Muslim-ban, the drastic reduction of the numbers of refugees admitted to the U.S., the increased power of ICE to detain and deport undocumented immigrants with impunity, the attempted cancellation of the DACA program that provided work-authorization and legal status to approximately 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, the termination of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua, the limitation of claims to asylum for women who have suffered domestic abuse, the Remain in Mexico policy, the administration’s attack on the Flores Settlement (that protects the rights of minors), and the list goes on and on.. It is incredibly crucial in this era in particular, that the stories and struggles of migrants are portrayed honestly and compassionately. We must place these stories front and center, again and again, before the American consciousness. The world must not be allowed to grow numb to their stories.