Student Films 'Undocumented' and 'Muñecas': An Ode to First Amendment Month

In honor of Santa Monica College’s (SMC) 2nd Annual First Amendment Month, the Communication & Media Studies Department hosted a screening of two student-made films on the Center for Media and Design’s campus on May 7. The films, ‘Undocumented’ and ‘Muñecas’, both shine a light on the immigrant experience. The first following an undocumented citizen living in America and the second following a boy caught in the drug trade between the United States and Mexico.

Co-written by SMC alumni Bishal Dutta and Oscar Huezo, the documentary ‘Undocumented’ allows viewers a look into the life of Huezo himself. With hopes of becoming a production designer, Huezo refuses to be taken advantage of by the current American political system, and wants to prove wrong anyone who believes that immigrants cannot accomplish greatness within the United States. The documentary hones in on Huezo’s determination toward his dreams, as he splits his time between working as a custodian to make money and embracing his artistic side to keep his passions alive and fueled.

“Undocumented…there’s a person who has a very tough job. You know, as a custodian, but the inspiration in it is that he gets to go on set, and all of a sudden it’s a magical whole world, and that’s really how I approach most of my films,” said ‘Undocumented’ producer and current SMC student Dennis Sandoval.

In the short film ‘Muñecas’, director and current SMC student Osvaldo Ozuna aims to paint a picture of a harsh reality lived out by his mother when she was a child. Following young Pablo as he finds himself trapped in the black tar heroine drug trade, the film allows the viewer to gain a sense of the pain, fear, and overwhelm that he experiences. With this film, Ozuna hopes to “remind people that there’s more to this phenomenon than the border, there’s more to being Latino, there’s more to being Mexican-American than what we see in cartel movies, what we hear in music, and what we hear in the news.”

After the screenings, Sandoval and Ozuna took part in a Q&A where they discussed the making of their films and the messages they hope to convey. In relation to First Amendment Month, the creators of both films embraced their rights to free speech and individual storytelling. While each follow different stories, both works place viewers in the shoes of their main characters and therefore act as a vessel by which the filmmakers can really get their messages heard.

"There is something a lot more intimate, a lot more real, that can lend itself to beautiful artistry,” said Ozuna. “You know, there’s art in our stories…That’s why I want to tell this, that’s why I want to make this story, to make people aware of what’s happening, and with awareness then we can work toward that goal that someday, all of us get to live that life that we desire.”

For both Sandoval and Ozuna, filmmaking functions as a way to display the hardships that life doles out, as well as the potential hope and inspiration that can come out of struggles. As both films act as windows into the migrant experience, both directors spoke of their hopes that their films would leave viewers with a more empathetic and humanizing understanding of the lives of those who may have had taken a different life path with different challenges.

“A lot of people need an Anglo-Saxon character to connect to a story…I think that one of the things that I like to do as a filmmaker, especially with Muñecas, is that for a second you forget these are ethnic characters,” said Ozuna. “You know the story is very specific to the group, but you’re able to connect to the emotion, you’re able to connect to that intimate part of being a human being that no matter where you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what your experiences have been.”

Undocumented is an official selection at the 38th International Festival of Film Schools in Munich, and Muñecas was chosen in 2017 as an official selection at the Official Latino Film and Arts Festival.