Who are these Dreamers?
In the past couple of years, Dreamers have been a topic of hot political debate at Washington, D.C. It’s centered on the issue of undocumented young adults and children who grew up with American culture and values.
“Dreamer” is a narrative fictional feature film that revolves around a Joe Rodriguez, a Dreamer who is trying to live a secret life in America. He's amiable, well-educated and attractive. He's graduated from college and is working and excelling in his field. He's on the way to achieving the American Dream. That is until his employer discovers his undocumented status and the life he's worked so hard for begins to crumble around him. He must face the possibility of losing his livelihood, his family and, even, himself.
Latino-Review conducted a telephone interview with director Jesse Salmeron and actor Jeremy Ray Valdez for this touching film.
“Dreamer” will be released on DVD and Netflix soon.
Read the full transcript or listen to the audio below.
Latino-Review: I know what a Dreamer is. In your own words, what exactly is a Dreamer for those people who don’t really understand?
Jesse Salmeron: The name is derived from the Dream Act. Basically it’s any child who was brought here undocumented by their parents. They grew up here. They went to school [here]. And they don’t have status.
Latino-Review: For this film, where did the idea for the movie come from? Was it ripped out of the headlines? Or was did it hit you guys personally?
Jeremy Ray Valdez: Jesse has a very personal connection to the story and the immigration situation. So Jesse, go ahead.
Jesse Salmeron: I came here undocumented when I was three years old from El Salvador. I was fortunate that we were coming from the El Salvadorian Civil War. We had refugee status. Now I’m a permanent resident and to be a citizen down the road too.
I know a lot of people in this situation with many friends and family in this situation. It’s very personal to me.
Latino-Review: Jeremy, for yourself, being born here in the United States, how were you attracted to this project?
Jeremy Ray Valdez: Well, I met Jesse when he pitched me another script which he getting ready to make right now. He said that we also had this other script called, “Dreamer.” I said, “Sure.” So I read it. Right way, I saw there was a lot of heart and a lot of care. He was deeply invested in this project.
It was a chance to play a lead character that’s multi-dimensional that goes through a lot in the film. So I said, “Absolutely.”
I was kind of ignorant and naïve in regards to the Dream Act and got a quick schooling on that.
Latino-Review: This question is technically for the both of you. Jesse, how did you research for this script? And Jeremy, since you’re not an undocumented immigrant yourself, how did you research for your role?
Jeremy Ray Valdez: As far as researching for the role, I had the perfect sounding board in the director/writer. It was his situation coming here undocumented. He definitely got me up to speed on the situation. On the Kickstarter, he interviewed some Dreamers for the mini-documentary. I learned from them as well.
So when you have an expert writing and directing the project, [the knowledge] comes pretty easily.
Latino-Review: And Jesse, how did you research all of this personally since a lot of these stories didn’t really occur with you, right?
Jesse Salmeron: It just all came together. I don’t know anyone that was taken in by a white family. I have a lot of friends and family that are still in this situation. So I was just talking to them and how they feel and how helpless on how they feel. It’s all the research I tried to do.
Latino-Review: Personally and to tell you the truth, my best friend went through the same ordeal with the driver’s license. She even lost her driver’s license at a gym where they accidentally ripped off the face of the card. She couldn’t get a new copy and turned her life upside down too.
Jeremy Ray Valdez: Wow.
Latino-Review: So when I was watching your film, that mini-story really hit me. Were there a lot of these types of personal stories that you felt needed to be included in the film?
Jesse Salmeron: Yeah. It’s always the small things that people always don’t think about and they can’t do. Such as getting into a night club, driving, or traveling is just difficult for them. It shows how just a really simple thing can cause a lot of damage.
Jeremy Ray Valdez: I can tell you from the experience in promoting to thousands of people at various film festivals and universities. People have come up to us and told us, “I’ve never told anybody before, but I’m a Dreamer.” That film affects so many people that they are willing to go up to you and tell you that. Or come up to us with peers and say, “This is my story. And thank you for telling my story. I felt alone so far and now people will understand on who I am.”
That itself is an award. For me, it’s a humbling experience.
Latino-Review: What do you say to critics who would call this a propaganda film?
Jeremy Ray Valdez: Personally, there is a cause behind the film. It’s on the front page of the news every single day with the immigration debate. We approach this as filmmakers in making a narrative feature film and not a documentary.
In the end of the day, it’s a film that has a story and it’s entertaining. That’s the feedback we got as well. This isn’t a documentary that hitting over the people’s heads with facts. We’re telling a story. We want to get people emotionally invested into the story and the characters.
So to those people who say this is a propaganda piece? I say that I look it as a story. That’s what it really is—we’re storytellers.
Jesse Salmeron: It’s what we can call “truth.” It’s what happening every day. If they want to call it propaganda on screen, then I would say no. They’re entitled to their opinion.
Latino-Review: So who’s the target audience for this film?
Jesse Salmeron: I think it’s for the mainstream audience. We’re not trying to preach to the choir. It is for Dreamers, but it’s very empowering to tell their story on to the big screen. It’s geared for a much wider audience. It’s for the people who don’t know how bad it could be or how much of a struggle it could be. It’s for the much more open-minded wider audience.
Jeremy Ray Valdez: I absolutely agree with Jesse. For me, I’m so happy that the Dreamers get a more empowering piece for themselves. I wanted to make this film and send the message out of this film so that middle-America and everyday people here who are watching or reading news to judge undocumented immigrants unfairly. I really want the piece to show the humanity of the Dreamer and to show that now human being should live that way.
That’s really who, like Jesse said, the mainstream audience should really take something away from this film.
Latino-Review: On the timing of this film, President Barack Obama has already issued an executive order about these Dreamers. And there’s a Senate bill that will help out all types of immigrants in the next few months. So for this film, is it perfect timing and will it be relevant in the future?
Jesse Salmeron: I hope it’s not. I know it’s strange to know, but that order is temporary. It’s only a two year thing. Although Obama supports it, but once he leaves office—it’s not telling what can happen with it. And an immigration reform isn’t going to pass anytime soon. They can’t even keep the government running let alone pass such a meaningful legislation. So it’s not going to pass anytime soon. It’s going to be a very long before we see something.
Jeremy Ray Valdez: I think that the film will always be relevant. No matter what happens to legislation in this country, there will always be poignant part of American history in addition to what’s going on in these years. No matter where the film stands in history, we can always look back and say, “Wow. This is an important part of American history.” It’s about the change that people are trying to make in this country.
Latino-Review: So what were the greatest challenges to this film then?
Jesse Salmeron: It’s just like any film it’s about raising the funds especially when you are doing a social issue type of film. It’s always tough to get the funding. We went to the community and raised money on Kickstarter to get this started. During post-prodution, we went back and funded $20,000. Over $70,000 was contributed to this project from the community. It’s a really incredible thing.
Latino-Review: So can you tell us on where people can actually view your film in the future?
Jesse Salmeron: We’re talking to some people for Netflix and DVD distribution coming up. We’re still deciding on that.
Latino-Review: And one last question to wrap it up for both of you, can you tell me any future projects beyond this film that you are working on?
Jeremy Ray Valdez: I had a movie that was just in theaters for a month called, “Mission Park.” And before that, I had “Blaze You Out” that was released earlier this summer. And I just wrapped on a film with Danny Trejo and Danny Glover called “Bad Asses.” So I have a lot of film and continue to more.
Latino-Review: And anything for you Jesse or you will continue to promote this Dreamer project?
Jesse Salmeron: No, I’m actually moving into my pre-production into my next film called “The Father, The Son.” It’s a story about a young man and his friends brought into a Texas desert in search for his father’s body to give him a proper burial. [The father] died while crossing from Mexico into Texas. It’s a really beautiful story and I can’t wait to get started.
Latino-Review: I appreciate you guys taking the time with me to talk about the film.
Jeremy Ray Valdez: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the interview—we really appreciate it.