deans-corner-3.pngWelcome to the College of Arts & Letters Dean's Corner, where acting Dean Elizabeth H. Simmons shares news, thoughts, and views on issues related to the arts and humanities. Here we focus on the present conditions of the liberal arts and the future steps we are taking to successfully create an environment that is innovating and inspiring.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the way that an artistic creation can help us look past our preconceptions about issues that confront us daily in the news and see them from a more human (or humane) perspective.  Immigration has been getting a great deal of attention in the media for the last few years, but it is often presented in terms of large-scale demographic, legal, and economic trends.  Moreover, the emphasis is often on the challenges immigrants face in their original countries, the difficulties encountered in establishing a place for themselves here, and the complications that a sudden influx of immigrants may pose for a given state.  What often gets lost is the positive contributions that so many immigrants are making for their new communities in the United States.  

A new documentary film “Vanishing Borders” by CAL faculty member Alexandra Hidalgo (in collaboration with some CAL students!) brings a fresh and welcome perspective to these issues, introducing us in a very powerful way to a group of immigrant women who are making a real difference in our country.  Please keep reading to learn the story behind the making of the film (and view the trailer). You’re also invited to attend the upcoming screening of the piece on November 19 in B-122 Wells Hall at 7:00pm, followed by a moderated discussion with the artist.

- Elizabeth H. Simmons, November 11, 2014

Vanishing Borders: An MSU Documentary Collaboration

 By Professor Alex Hidalgo, November 11, 2014

In May of 2010, I worked with a four-person crew as I directed and produced Vanishing Borders, my first feature documentary. The film tells the story of four immigrant women whose presence in New York City has changed their communities for the better. The women are Teboho Moja, a South African professor of higher education who worked in the anti-apartheid movement; Daphnie Sicre, a Latina raised in Spain who is an activist and a Ph.D. candidate in educational theater; Melainie Rogers, an Australian nutritionist whose private practice hires primarily women; and Yatna Vakharia, an Indian mother of two and school volunteer who began attending college when her children became teenagers. Here’s the trailer for the film:

As an immigrant myself, I decided to make the film in response to most media representations of immigration, which tend to focus on its threatening and problematic aspects. Even sympathetic portrayals of immigrants often deal with their suffering and struggles. While I also wanted to portray those issues, it was important to me to focus on what immigrants bring into this country, as well as on how living in the States transforms their lives for the better.

Vanishing Borders Trailer from Alexandra Hidalgo on Vimeo.

I left New York with dozens of hours of footage to edit in order to craft my story. The process would have been lengthy under any circumstances, but I was in the midst of getting my Ph.D., and I was starting a family. Two children and a tenure-track position in WRAC later, I finished the final cut of the project this summer. I cannot imagine a better place to complete Vanishing Borders than MSU, so I’m glad the process was as lengthy as it was.

To support my work, I received a HARP grant and a CAL Research Award, which have allowed me to cover postproduction costs, giving me the opportunity to collaborate with MSU faculty and students on the project. Fellow Venezuelan immigrant Ricardo Lorenz, who teaches in the College of Music, composed the score. His music, which transcendently captures the spirit of the film, was performed by MSU graduate students and Ricardo himself at Blue Griffin Recording, a Lansing studio. I have also been able to work with Shannon Roe-Butler, Becky Harris, Carly Mangus, and Katherine Grimes, four gifted Professional Writing students, in making the trailer, designing the website and poster, and executing our social media campaign.

It is only fitting, given how integral MSU has been to the film, that its first foray into the public sphere should be as part of the Project 60/50 initiative. We will have a screening at 7pm on November 19 in B-122 Wells Hall. The post-screening discussion with Ricardo and myself will be moderated by Tama Hamilton-Wray, who is faculty at the Residential College. We are submitting the film to a number of festivals, but the MSU screening holds particular value to me because without the university’s support and the talent of its faculty and students, there would be no film.

To learn more about Vanishing Borders, visit our website, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter