TNC talks with filmmaker Nathan Fitch about his latest documentary short he recently made for THE NEW YORKER which focuses on the growing situation that is facing undocumented immigrants in the age of COVID-19.
Hi Nathan thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
I'm doing OK. It's been rather intense to be in New York City the last month. It feels like it's been transformed by COVID-19. Going out on the street now feels like a sci-fi movie. That said, it has certainly proved to be a great impetus to stay home, spend time with family, and try to focus on projects you might not otherwise have the time for.
Do you think this time will provide you with new creative inspiration?
It's a bit hard to say at this moment. Likely, yes, but it will take some time to know. Hopefully creative projects can help others get through this hard time!
Can you tell me a little bit about your latest documentary short you recently made for The New Yorker, how did this come about?
This project came about quite organically. I was in production on another project for The New Yorker prior to the coronavirus ramping up, and the editor I was working with asked me if I had any story ideas related to the virus. In addition to producing films, I teach at The New School University in New York, and I had just had a conversation with one of my students who was passionate about the issue of undocumented immigrants in the US. As things started to get intense in New York, I reached out to the student, Angela Ixim, who had been showing a lot of talent. Angela was able to line up the access with the undocumented subject of The New Yorker short documentary, so this piece is really a collaboration between us.
Did you know much about the situation many undocumented workers faced before the pandemic?
Yes, I've worked on other projects related to the situation of undocumented workers in the US, especially in the current administrations approach, so I knew they would be in a difficult situation in a pandemic.
Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter did you have any apprehensions about getting someone to be part of the film?
Yes! As a documentary filmmaker you always have a lot of responsibility to your subject, but in this case that was all the more true. The video staff at The New Yorker was very helpful in flagging moments that might be revealing of our subject's identity, and we took that seriously!
"Filmmaking is a very accessible practice these days, and it is changing all the time."
The reaction to the film has been amazing, did you image you would get this type of response?
it's been gratifying to see people respond to the piece! Ultimately, most of the credit goes to our film subject, who was willing to open up about the challenges that he and other undocumented workers are facing! I don't think you can ever know what kind of reaction your work will get, but I had goose bumps during the interview, which means something!
Since making this film, and the reaction it's gotten, do you think once the US is able to get past this pandemic there will be a much need conversation of how undocumented workers are treated with the US?
I would like to say yes, but I'm honestly not sure. Even before coronavirus, the US was in a very complex moment, in terms of a nation wide political discourse. It's hard to say what that will look like when things settle from the current moment of crisis.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I've always been passionate about storytelling. Since I'm dyslexic, the written word always took a lot of effort, so visual storytelling has always made sense for me. Every project is different, but I really enjoyed the collaborations I had on this film with my collaborators. It felt like we were all invested in telling an important story at a scary time. While there was some budget and I was able to pay people, it felt like it was about something more. Big thanks to Angela Ixim, Eric Schleicher, Kang, Soo-jeong, Sara Joe Wolansky, and more!
You are part of the BK Film Collective, how did you get involved in this organisation?
The Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective is an amazing group! I got involved when I was in graduate school at Hunter College, and I can't say enough about how helpful this community is. Pre COVID-19, we would meet in person once a week to workshop members projects. I've learned so much about filmmaking from being part of this group.
How much has your style and the approach to your film projects changed since you started out?
While I would hope that my style and approach to filmmaking is evolving, it's hard for me to say. I do think a through line in the projects that I feel impelled to direct is that they attempt to give a voice to people who often are not heard. It may link back to having a learning disability, and challenges related to that experience, but I think imparting empathy is often something I try to do in my work.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
Find stories and approaches that you love! Regardless if you want to make documentary, narrative, hybrid, or experimental work, I think that is key. Filmmaking is a very accessible practice these days, and it is changing all the time. Believe in yourself, and the visual language that propels you to make work. There is a lot of noise, ignore that.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this short documentary?
While the subject of my short does not have US citizenship (or even a work permit, which is actually all he's asking for), he is more patriotic to the United States of America than many Americans I know. How is it that he pays taxes to the US government, but does not qualify for healthcare and other benefits we take for granted? A lot of people are in distress right now, and I get that.
But my hope would be that the piece might get people to scale out for a minute, and think about their relative level of privilege (that may mean they are not afraid of being deported). To be honest I was scared to venture out to film this piece, but I did it because I knew the subject I was filming with did not have the privilege to stay home and self distance.