SXSW Movie Review: They Live Here, Now
One of the best things about the SXSW film festival is how personal so many of the films shown are. They Live Here, Now is a documentary about Casa Marianella, a unique shelter for immigrants and refugees on Austin’s East Side is intimate, unique and powerful with a message that couldn’t be more timely.
Writer/Director Jason Outenreath (left), a former Peace Corps volunteer who got his film degree at the University of Texas at Austin, hopes the film spurs “people to be galvanized to action. I want people to be moved by the stories of the immigrants in the film, and to have a stake in what happens next in this narrative.” To achieve this, he uses a cinema verite style of just setting up the camera and letting people tell their stories.
This produces sometimes comic results, as people are interrupted, or other residents notice the cameras running and quickly move out of frame. But what it mostly produces is an experience that is incredibly personal and feels very much free of artifice. It never feels heavy-handed or like it’s pushing an agenda
Some of the residents wished to remain anonymous, and their stories are among the most powerful. An anonymous woman, whom we only see from the chest down, from Cameroon tells her story of violence both in her home and along the path to America, including being kidnapped and tortured in Mexico.
Indeed, stories of gang violence, war, and struggles of crossing the border are among the most common elements of their stories. What they don’t comment on are the politics of the situation. Indeed, a refugee from Iraq goes so far as to say he doesn’t want to talk about the politics or get into a discussion of how the US destabilized his home– he instead speaks of the kindness of everyone he’s met and how grateful he is to be here.
While I mentioned how the film is free of artifice, that isn’t exactly true. Outenreath instead employs a single actor to bring to life a fictionalized story of Nayelli, a sixteen year old Mexican girl who lost her mother on the way to the US and is searching for her father. You might feel outraged or manipulated except that her story is by no means the most fantastical and is inspired by true stories of other immigrants.
Because Nayeli’s story is the only one we keep coming back to in the film, it provides a thematic through-line weaving what otherwise would just be a dozen disconnected stories together, so I will forgive Outenreath his artistic license here.
What we end up with is a beautifully empathetic story that hopefully will spur people to action on the issue of immigration. Even if at the very least you can come away with a greater sense of empathy for immigrants and refugees, this film will have hit its mark.
3 out of 5 stars
They Live Here, Now had its world premiere earlier today, Sunday, March 11, at 4:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. You can catch two more screenings later this week at:
Monday, March 12, 5:45pm, Austin Film Society Cinema at the Marchesa
Wednesday, March 14, 1:30pm, Rollins Theatre at the Long Center
See its official schedule at sxsw.com for any additional “buzz” screenings added later in the week.