23 january 1999 - sundance film festival
an unfliching glimpse into the shadows of contemporary american immigrant life.La Ciudad was filmed between 1992-1997. During those four years, the director, David Riker, studied the immigration and disorientation experiences of New York latin americans. Interviewing hundreds of people, conducting dramatic workshops for sweatshop workers, months of serving day labourers coffee culminated in a set of four complilation stories reflecting the struggle to exist on the margins of american society.
Thinking about all that backstage material made me eager to see a La Ciudad web site - all those stories and transcripts and interviews could be archived into different directories or a database and searched and other immigrants or their descendants could add their stories. Because the reaction of some audience members at the Sundance premiere was intense identification - the american immigration story needs retelling and there is relatively little authentic cinematic portraiture of the recent latin american experience.
It is this identification that makes La Ciudad a gripping experience. Each of the four vignette segments is anchored between scenes of a photographer in his shop snapping photos of the locals - sustained looks at immigrant faces and their evolving expressions makes for identification. I know I saw one that reminded me of my midwestern family.
That the film is made by a gringo who didn't speak spanish until years into filming is possible to overlook in light of the stories he's retrieved. The people in this country who make our clothes cheap seldom emerge from the shadows to describe their daily life and interactions - this director has admirably facilitated that. Lord do we need to see it!
And Lord does the web need that kind of content!