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Movie follows migrants

Kate Antonacci | Friday, September 29, 2006

Father Daniel Groody wanted to show people the human face of the world’s most vulnerable members – and he decided making a movie was the way to do that.

After spending years visiting the canals, deserts, mountains and border towns of Mexico – and hearing the stories of countless immigrants – Groody has condensed his research into a 33-minute documentary entitled “Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey.”

“This is not just about the border between Mexico and the United States. It’s about the border between national security and human insecurity, civil law and natural law and citizenship and discipleship,” said Groody, an assistant professor of theology at Notre Dame and the film’s executive producer. “It’s out of that that we want to acknowledge that this is a complex issue.”

Groody’s film explores it by turning to those most deeply and directly affected by immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border: the immigrants themselves. Alongside prominent theologians, congressional leaders and activists, Groody’s film features Mexican immigrants sharing their own stories and their reasons for migrating.

Groody wants viewers to understand the theological issues related to immigration – particularly the immigrants’ search to find God.

“[The film is] an attempt to invite people to understand the Christian story by understanding the human story,” Groody said.

Because of the religious component to the film, Groody was not sure how it would be received in the public forum.

“Despite [the religious component], it also kind of is just another chapter in the relationship between religion and politics,” Groody said.

And very quickly, the film caught the attention of politicians, particularly prominent Hispanic leaders, who arranged for Groody take his message to Capitol Hill today.

“There were some Hispanic leaders in Washington who found out about the film,” Groody said. “They are gathering together a group of congressional leaders … and are organizing a forum with some congressional debate.”

Though his film is a relevant topic for congressman, Groody said the issue of immigration is one that extends far beyond the nation’s borders.

“Migration is not the problem,” Groody said. “Migration is the symptom … rooted in the global economy.”

With 200 million people around the world that are migrating – not just from Mexico, but from places like Chad, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi – Groody said it is important to look at this film, and its message, from a global perspective.

“Out of that, we have to then just reflect on what is our collective response to what is happening to these people,” he said.

For Groody, whose target audience was originally college campuses, the national and international success of the film is exciting.

“I knew we needed to do it even if it only reached our students. Our goal was to get it on PBS,” Groody said. “… Congress is certainly a different ball game.”

Though the film is also slated to be shown at a variety of different international film festivals – including the Australian Film Festival in late October and the new Way Media Film Festival in November – Groody is making sure his original target audience sees the film.

“We first showed it at Harvard, then Oxford over the summer,” Groody said, adding that it is also being brought to Stanford University soon.

The film, which was a Harry Chapin Media Award finalist in the category of “Outstanding Television/Film Coverage That Positively Impacts Hunger, Poverty and Self-Reliance,” grew out of ideas Groody first explored in his book “Border of Death, Valley of Life.”

The firsthand account of “a religious ministry that reaches out to console, heal and build the lives of poor and desperate immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of a better life,” according to the Web site, propelled Groody to use a different medium to transmit his message.

He wanted to create something to help reshape the “imagination about migrants” and he thought film would be an effective way to get his message out.

“If we really knew their stories we would not be afraid of these people. If you knew their face, you would in many ways be inspired,” Groody said.

An important consideration, Groody said, is the Church’s view on migration and how Notre Dame is contributing to that.

While a number of groups at Notre Dame have already contacted Groody about showing the film, he said he is open to finding new outlets at the University.

“The topic is so ripe,” he said. “It’s a beginning … we know there are more things that can be done.”

Groody financed the film through individual benefactors and Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Publishing Company, as well as different departments at Notre Dame including the Institute for Latino studies, the Department of Theology and the College of Arts and Letters.

But support for the film was not just limited to academics.

“Bruce Springsteen had given us two songs to use in the film,” he said.

Groody has already released a follow-up film called “Strangers No Longer,” which he hopes will, in some small way, help with “making the lives and voices of these people known to people who might otherwise not see them.”