The Trauma of Sanctuary []


I believe all sentient beings should be free to roam. It’s our birthright. Both Karla, the Harvard-educated, formerly undocumented immigrant journalist and advocate featured in this film, and I share this view about the human migration, so we open this film with a radical declaration: “If you crossed, if you made the journey, if people did what it takes [to survive as an] immigrant in America, which is a lot, then you deserve to be here,” says Karla. She goes on to profess that recent desert crossings should be viewed as mythic and Homeric as any one of the “great journeys” of history. Yet in these tales our crossers confront all the ugly monsters without the help of any of the gods.

I love Karla’s thinking. I love her writing, her lyrical prose, the painful way she writes about the traumas of life as a formerly undocumented woman. She and I share a compulsion to dive into the horrible and the grotesque, themes that form the souls of our artworks; and these themes make up the teeth of this film thanks to Karla’s video and audio confessionals.

I intuited that using a nontraditional documentary approach might make Karla more comfortable, as she can be cagey with interlopers. Karla takes her own daily psychological dives to write her exquisite essays, so instead of setting up a “talking head” interview where I ask the questions, we used a confessional style: Karla, her partner, Talya, and I set up a private audio booth where Karla unraveled her feelings in stream of consciousness, mostly about the psychic toilings of undocumented life. She shared her fears and worries about herself, her parents and her dear friend Nelson Pinos, a 44-year-old father of three who has been living in a New Haven church for more than 500 days to evade a deportation order.

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