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Immigration film presented

Lindsay Sena | Friday, September 28, 2007

Award-winning filmmaker Stephanie Black presented her first film on Jamaican immigration, “H-2 worker,” a documentary about the migration of Jamaican men to southern Florida sugar cane plantations, at the Hesburgh Center Thursday.

The only two people to attend were an Observer reporter and an Observer photographer.

The film, which won the 1990 prize for Best Documentary and Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the men as they live in poor housing conditions and work at jobs that call for intensive labor.

The film includes interviews with U.S. senators and farmers, and it includes a scene from an American Workers Union meeting, in which a speaker argues that Jamaicans are stealing work from American workers.

Black estimated that, at the time it was filmed, the Jamaican men were supposed to be making $5.32 per hour, or close to $40 per day.

“But in reality,” Black said, “they were only paid $20 a day, which was subject to further deductions by Jamaican law.”

One problem Black illustrated is that the United States labor laws are not being enforced on the plantations for H-2 guest workers.

“Here are 10,000 workers who aren’t voting,” she said. “Legislators always want to reflect the interests of sugar corporations, not employees, so the laws were there but enforcement wasn’t.”

Now, sugar cane can be harvested mechanically, but the guest worker program is still being examined and could be expanded.

Black also spoke about her 2002 film, “Life and Debt,” a documentary about the migration of Jamaican workers from their home country to the United States. The film follows the lives of Jamaican workers and explores how many choose to leave their homes and migrate to North America to pursue work.

Black appeared as part of the Kellogg Institute’s Lecture and Seminar Series.

She got her start in the documentary industry as a student at New York University’s film school. Her most recent film is called “Africa Unite.” It documents the celebration of Bob Marley’s 60th birthday in Ethiopia.