The Undocumented

Directed by Marco Williams
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The Undocumented investigates the causes and effects of migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border. This human tragedy is explored through three sets of characters: Border Patrol Search and Rescue agents fighting to save migrant lives, forensic investigators working to name the dead, and Mexican families struggling to heal after losing loved ones.
Since 2003 more than 1500 dead ‘border crossers’ have been found in the vast borderlands between Sonora, Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. The Undocumented tells the story of migrants who died while trying to cross an unforgiving desert in search of a better life, and follows them on their long journey home.

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the-undocumented_still_01The film is woven from multiple narrative threads. In Arizona, it depicts the efforts of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME) and the Mexican Consulate of Tucson, as they strive to name unidentified dead border crossers. It also follows Border Patrol Search and Rescue (BORSTAR) agents, who balance law enforcement and lifesaving in the midst of another deadly hot summer. In Mexico, the film explores the impact of border deaths on migrants’ families, revealing migrants’ stories in the process. The film also documents the experiences of migrants preparing to cross, who are all too naïve about the dangers they face.

The challenge this film undertakes is to tell the stories of men and women who have already died. And with that in mind, the goal is to effect a transformation. We begin with a dead body, grotesque and anonymous. We follow that body from the desert to a forensic lab where investigators examine the corpse and its personal effects. An ID card is found. Now he has a name. We follow the body home, meet the man’s family; we learn who he was and why he left. Now we have a human, a person, someone similar to you and me. The character’s transformation becomes the audience’s transformation. Along the way we meet a cast of characters who express a wide range of viewpoints regarding the border and illegal immigration. The only thing they seem to be able to agree on is that the migrant deaths must end.

Marco Williams is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and fiction film director. He is also an Associate Professor of Undergraduate Film and Television at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Williams’ Two Towns of Jasper (2004) received the 2004 Peabody Award and was broadcast on POV on PBS. The film and the directors were featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the film was the catalyst for a live town hall meeting—“America in Black and White”, anchored by Ted Koppel. Banished (2007) won the grand jury award for documentary feature at the Miami International Film Festival. Freedom Summer (2006) won a broadcast Emmy as part of the series Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.

Generous support provided by: ITVS,  The Ford Foundation, and The Fledgling Fund.