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New Documentary Explores How a 2016 Play Enabled Young Asylum Seekers to Tell Their Stories

New Documentary Explores How a 2016 Play Enabled Young Asylum Seekers to Tell Their Stories
Shelter performed in East LA’s Lincoln Park, April, 2016. Photo: Steven Gunther Courtesy of CalArts.

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The film Finding Shelter chronicles the impact of the play Shelter on its young subjects and national audiences—and looks back at a pivotal phase in youth immigration to the US.

The premiere and panel discussion at The Sotomayor School for Science and Art in Glassell Park, on March 13, returns to the site of original research with students seeking asylum.

Valencia, Calif. (Feb. 7, 2019) – As thousands of migrant children continue to be detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, a new documentary from CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP)/Duende CalArts sheds light on the struggles of young asylum seekers.

On Wednesday, March 13, at The Sotomayor School for Science and Art, CNP will present the world premiere of Finding Shelter. The documentary explores the development of Shelter, the critically acclaimed 2016 play about unaccompanied Central American youth making the hazardous journey to the United States. Shelter was a project of CNP/Duende CalArts.

The film focuses on the young people whose real-life experiences informed the play, their two-year involvement in the project, the impact on the creative team involved, and performances in East LA’s Lincoln Park and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center.

Shelter was written by CalArts School of Theater faculty and Head of Duende CalArts Marissa Chibas. “When we began work on this project five years ago, we had no idea the stories of young Central American asylum seekers would prove even more timely in 2019,” said Chibas, the film’s director. “As research for Shelter, we interviewed Sotomayor students about their harrowing experiences coming to the US, alongside their teachers, caseworkers, and attorneys. One of the students, who has since been granted asylum and is attending college, is interviewed in the documentary. This documentary is an opportunity to bear witness to the journey of these brave young people—and put a human face on the origins of today’s humanitarian crisis.”

Based on extensive interviews with undocumented Central American youth and those around them, Shelter was written and conceived by Chibas, directed by celebrated Mexico City-based director Martin Acosta, and choreographed by CalArts School of Theater alumnx Fernando Belo. In the populist theatrical tradition of Federal Theater Project and El Teatro Campesino, the work was performed in both theaters and non-theatrical sites and accompanied by an engagement and learning curricula for affected communities. It was covered extensively by press, including the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Associated Press, American Theatre, and more.

As recent news reflects, issues of immigration, sanctuary, and deportation are even more pressing than they were when the production debuted in early 2016. According to a December 2018 report by NPR, nearly 15,000 migrant children – mostly from Central America – are currently detained at the US-Mexico border.  On February 7, 2019, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-27) announced the introduction of bicameral legislation, the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act.

Clocking in at a half-hour in length, the film features both Spanish and English subtitles in an effort to bring viewers together across language barriers. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Susan J. Terrio (Whose Child Am I?:Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in US Immigration Custody), Steve Vigil of Homies Unidos, and deportation defense attorney Camila Alvarez of CARECEN, the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the country.

Finding Shelter will also be screened as part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival, running March 14-25 and at the Segal Film Festival on Theatre and Performance Festival at the City University of New York on March 6, 8, 11.​​ Future screenings will be announced soon.

WHEN:           Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 7:30 pm

WHERE:        The Sotomayor School for Science and Art

2050 N San Fernando Road // Los Angeles, CA 90065