Issues of immigration, immigrants’ rights, and the global refugee crisis are at the forefront of our collective political, ethical, and moral conversations. At heart, these discussions are about hospitality and how we treat our neighbors, whether they live down the street or halfway around the world or show up on our doorstep unannounced. Two documentaries premiering at SXSW, They Live Here, Now and The World Before Your Feet, offer much-needed perspectives on these themes.
They Live Here, Now focuses on Austin’s Casa Marianella, a volunteer-driven emergency homeless shelter serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world. Casa offers access to legal and medical resources, food, clothing, English classes, and other resources and serves around 325 clients each year.
Rather than providing a full account of the ministry’s work, writer/director Jason Outenreath focuses on a select group of residents as they recount the events that drove them from their home countries, their (often) perilous journey to the United States, the bureaucratic mazes that they must navigate to receive asylum, and their hopes for the future. We hear harrowing and heartbreaking stories of refugees from Mexico, Iraq, and Somalia, among others. Volunteers assign them chores, teach English lessons, and provide legal counsel. The Casa residents speak with great appreciation and respect for their new friends who serve them and regard the United States with great admiration, even in the midst of our current leadership crisis.
At a time when there is a dearth of compassion at our highest levels of power, They Live Here, Now is a beautiful example of it enacted in more humble, and often overlooked settings.
Jeremy Workman’sThe World Before Your Feet follows Matt Green as he walks every block of every street in New York City, a journey of more than 8,000 miles. Workman has been following Matt for the past three years, and the doc is a snapshot of Green’s journey. Like Green’s walk, the film has no real structure nor is it building to some big message. Rather, it observes an observer. Green walks with no set route or schedule and is fully immersed in the moments and places in which he finds himself and in the encounters with New Yorkers that he meets along the way.
Green’s walk is one symptom of his desire to live a more simple life. He quit his job as a civil engineer and moved out of his apartment. He couch-surfs and pet sits for a place to sleep and subsists on meager meals of rice and beans. He has few, if any, indulgences and lives on about $15 per day. Walking is not new to green. In 2010, he walked across the United States, spending seconds seeing millions of things. His NYC excursion is the opposite experience, spending millions of minutes exploring one place.
Green’s journey is also one of kindness and hospitality, given and received. A passerby asks him how many times he’s been attacked or mugged. Green’s response: zero. The other questions usually have to do with where he lives, what he does for money, or what he plans to “get out” of the project. An appreciation for the journey as a journey or even his descriptions of his much simpler life only come later in these conversations, a telling glimpse into a preoccupations with money and security.
The World Before Your Feet is a timely and inspiring film. While we’re all unlikely to give up our jobs and spend our days walking every mile of our city’s streets, Green gives us an example that we can follow. We would do well to walk more and slow down to speak to our neighbors–and even strangers–and, in the process, gain a great appreciation for the diversity, beauty, and history around us. ,
They Live Here, Now premieres in the Documentary Spotlight category here at SXSW. The World Before Your Feet premieres in the Documentary Feature Competition.