Filmmakers Matthew McGlinn and John Altman set out to, in McGlinn's words, "elevate the conversation" about immigration with their new documentary, "Immigrants in the Heartland: Who Are We Following?"
"I know that immigration, and things under that umbrella, is a very divisive, contentious issue for a lot of people today," McGlinn said. "I felt that John and I could make a film that serves as the backdrop of how we as Catholics should be dealing with any issue in our lives that might be divisive, contentious or confusing."
McGlinn and Altman, of Sistine Films, will know soon enough to what extent they've succeeded, as "Immigrants in the Heartland," funded in part by the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign, is to make its debut online by early August.
"I was intrigued by the subject," McGlinn told Catholic News Service in a phone interview from Kansas City, Missouri. "There were things I was sensing that it might be an interesting story." He cited initiatives taking place in his home Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, as well as in dioceses in neighboring Kansas.
"Immigrants in the Heartland" features more than a dozen voices of native-born and immigrant Americans.
One, Greg Bole, an immigration legal assistance attorney for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, recalled helping close up at the Domino's Pizza where he worked in Anderson, Indiana, when he saw a truck drop off an undocumented woman from Mexico outside at 1 a.m. All the woman had was a sack with some belongings, a pillow, and a slip of paper bearing the address where her husband lived.
"She was hungry. And I was at a pizza place," Bole said. While he had an inkling at the time that he wanted to be a lawyer, he added, "I realized I wanted to work with this group of people. Helping this woman find her husband and eat some pizza led me to believe I could help in a more substantial way."
"It takes a lot to become an American citizen. And I am blessed to be one," said Benedict Babaran, who was born in the Philippines. He added he especially likes the part in taking the citizenship oath that "you swear your allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. Not to the government of the United States. Because the government may change."
Lucy Paw, a refugee from Myanmar, sponsored by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, still recalls the terror in her home country faced by her and her three children: "Sometimes we cannot sleep. The gun and the weapon, deh-deh-deh-deh-deh," she said, imitating the sound of machine gun fire. "Before we came to the United States, I prayed the rosary."
Father Wesley Schawe, pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City, Kansas, remembered his baptism into advocacy: a 2005 immigrant rights rally downtown with 1,000 people on hand.
"I get into the bed of a pickup, and I'm handed a microphone," at which point he said a prayer for immigrant rights, Father Schawe said. "I know I lost friends that day. There were people who saw that on the news and were ticked off. ... Here I was, taking a side, so to speak. And people go, 'Look at that that little Wesley that has come back and is offering a prayer in a language I don't understand,'" he added
"Some weeks later, we had this dialogue. I was at this table with some Spanish speakers. 'You remember that time when you got up there? Did you really mean that, or did you just get up there?' So we have those people who feel I betrayed them, and those who thought I did it insincerely. I was getting it from both ends!"
Among others interviewed are Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas; Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City, Kansas; and Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Wichita, Kansas; and Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City St. Joseph, Missouri.
"What we ended up discovering was way, way, way beyond what we were expecting," McGlinn said.
While some of the first-person accounts in "Immigrants in the Heartland" may be hard to hear, the filming process was surprisingly easy, McGlinn told CNS. " We submitted our (CCC grant) proposal Oct. 1 (2017), and we were in preproduction by December," he said.
In a bit of a flip, the documentary will be available for rental and sale online first through whoarewefollowing.org. Then, after a year, it will be made available for television. But McGlinn has another kind of availability in mind as well.
"We want to make the film available to stand in the margin of this conversation, which in many ways can guide people in some of the other things going on in our church -- rather the argument between modernity and traditionalism, the scandals that seem to morph into one thing after another," he said.