The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

DePaul students highlight immigrant stories through documentary filmmaking

Three film students tell stories of Chicago’s immigrant community and sustainability activists through documentaries.
Rodolfo Zagal
From left to right: DePaul associate professor of film Anuradha Rana stands alongside her students Julian Bax, Josiah Shaw and Fawad Amjad at DePaul’s Innovation Day on Jan. 26, 2024. The students presented their documentaries at the event.

Last week, DePaul film students showcased documentaries they created in collaboration with Chicago non-profits that highlight the immigrant experience in the city in an effort to raise awareness of its complexity. 

For some, filmmaking is a creative outlet to address some of the most pressing and important social issues in the city. The documentaries were inspired by the humanitarian crisis that Chicago is experiencing with the recent arrival of more than 30,000 migrants. 

Anuradha Rana, a DePaul associate professor of film, guides DePaul students in working with Chicago non-profit organizations as part of her class.  The class, called Filming with Change Agents, is a catalyst for students to learn about different socio-political structures and news in Chicago while honing in on their interests in film. 

“The idea is that we’re working with people in the community and different organizations on meaningful topics and issues,” Rana said. 

This quarter, students worked with Johannes Favi, the deputy director of the Illinois Community for Displaced Immigrants (ICDI), an organization devoted to providing resources for asylum seekers and immigrants in Chicago. 

“Documentaries can be an effective medium to showcase a bigger picture to the world,” Favi said. “This quarter, we used short documentaries to encourage viewers to contact their elected officials.”

Julian Trejo Bax, a DePaul senior and film student, said that working with Favi has been fulfilling.

“It was a great experience working with Johannes, and his creative drive to help displaced immigrants through filmmaking was very contagious,” Bax said. 

Bax said he identifies as a Mexican immigrant. His connection to his identity helped him understand the importance of acknowledging that no immigrant story is the same. In his documentary, Bax documented the life of a displaced Cuban immigrant named Yoan. 

The piece, he said was a meaningful and important experience for him. And the increase in migration in the city drives him to uplift their voices and share their experiences. 

“It’s important for DePaul students to be aware of the realities of current issues like immigration,” Bax said. “It is our duty to help those in need.”

Eduardo Rodriguez, the assistant director of Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance (CITA), speaks in DePaul senior student Fawad Amjad’s film “ICDI Journey.” CITA is a program that is a part of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants. (Courtesy of Isthmus Films)

Similar to Bax, Fawad Amjad, a senior majoring in film, said he learned a lot from the class working with Latin American immigrants. In his documentary, he shared the experience of an Ecuadorian refugee family who walked for two months from their homeland to Texas for asylum. 

Amjad said that as an international student from Pakistan, he was surprised by the journeys of refugees traveling to the United States. 

He added that the most eye-opening thing he learned was that most of the migrants’ resources come from donations from non-profits, and not from the city. His goal is to highlight different migrant stories and shed light on the need for more resources.

“It was alarming to see the lengths people go to come here. Also to realize that the resources in place probably aren’t even equipped to help them out as much as we think,” Amjad said. 

Josiah Shaw, another film student, documented nature-based learning and environmental sustainability at the Chicago Public School Monarcas Academy. The school has a majority Latine student body with a significant portion being immigrant students from various countries.

Shaw and his film team collaborated with Openlands, a non-profit organization focused on improving access to clean, open and natural spaces for community activities in Chicago. 

“We were able to make a short documentary to show teachers that nature-based learning is possible,” Shaw said. “It may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it’s beneficial for students.” 

The film documented a parent-teacher named Gina Pacheco and her emphasis on gardening and outdoor activities in her classroom. The class looks to supplement traditional homework assignments with more immersive hands-on learning. 

Though many of the films expose the harsh realities of the immigrant experience in Chicago, the students aim to educate viewers on the personal effects of such realities. 

“I think about what’s really going on in the world at this particular moment,” Rana said.

Those who wish to see the films can view them here. 

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