New Film ‘Long Gone By’ Shows The Impossible Realities Of Undocumented Latinx Immigrants In America Today.

Every 4 years in the lead up to a presidential election here in the United States, one of the consistent issues that comes up on both sides of the aisle is immigration. Sadly, it has been weaponized in negative ways and too often, the people at the center of this issue get taken out in favor of emotional rhetoric.

But the core of this issue is a daily reality for many people across this country, especially the Latinx community which make up a large number of immigrants in the U.S. What we need is more spaces to hear the individual stories that allow for nuance, complexity, and empathy. This is why films and documentaries are important in helping to change culture and impact people in ways that other aspects of society, namely politics, perhaps cannot.

A new film that aims to draw audiences into the impossible realities of the undocumented Latinx immigrant experience is doing exactly this. ‘Long Gone By’, starring actress/producer Erica Muñoz, is a heartfelt story that challenges audiences to think deeper about how we view people of different backgrounds to us.

The story follows Ana Alvarez – a single mother from Nicaragua living in Warsaw, Indiana with her teenage daughter, Izzy. When a routine check in leads to a deportation order, life as Ana knows it ends. The timing could not be worse as Izzy has just been accepted to Indiana University, a dream that becomes a nightmare when she discovers that because of her immigration status she will not qualify for the needed scholarships or federal aid. Faced with an impossible reality of a lifetime away from her daughter, Ana decides to risk everything in a last chance effort to leave Izzy’s tuition paid before her time runs out. An intimately unnerving portrait of a woman willing to sacrifice everything to give her daughter the chance at a life she never had.

We spoke with Erica about making this film, her own immigrant family, and why this film is more relevant now than ever before.

Although this is a fictional film, the story is very real for so many people across the United States today. How did the idea for the film originally come about?

Andrew and I were working on a documentary series just after the most recent presidential election. We worked on a few stories featuring undocumented immigrants, one about a central California agriculture community, one about sanctuary churches and one about a dreamer trying to become a doctor but having a hard time finding financial aid. The seeds of a story were born from that experience. We started asking questions about what It looks like to tell a version of this story in a way we hadn’t yet seen. Without caricatures or stereotypes but telling the story of a complicated woman who makes questionable choices in the name of her child.

As an actress and a mother, what did you draw upon when digging into the role of Ana during filming?  

I studied with Anthony Meindl for years and he talks a lot about how everything you need is already inside you. So preparation can be a lot less complicated.  I thought lot about my mother. She raised 4 small children on her own working two, sometimes 3 jobs at a time. She taught me to be strong and self reliant and to press on through hardship.  Starting from there and having my two children in Warsaw with us, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between desperation and motherhood. The desire to take care of your children and what lines you might cross to protect them.

Why did you choose Indiana as the setting for the story? 

Andrew chose Warsaw, Indiana, because it was just the perfect American small town. It looked like everything you picture the American story to be. The people are kind, the scenery is gorgeous, and he wanted to juxtapose Ana’s struggle against this picturesque town.

There are so many political and social discussions about immigration right now in the US, both negative and positive. But what this film does is bring the issue back to the individual, human, and nuanced perspective. How do you hope this film will change hearts and minds for people beyond what news media clips can do? 

I mean, this is a fictional story about a woman who comes up with a dangerous solution to a common problem. The intention for us was to tell the story of a complicated woman and to hopefully shine a light on the similarities in everyone. We tried to do that by showing the tenderness between mother and daughter. That love, the love between mother and daughter, transcends most barriers. It is such a universal feeling. My hope is that we accomplished the goal of showing that parallel.

You are the daughter of immigrant parents and understand many aspects of this story on a personal level. What do you think is missing from the larger conversation about immigrant families in America?

My mother is Costa Rican but was born in the US and my father immigrated from Costa Rica when he was a teenager. I was raised in Costa Rica until I was about 4 or 5. That said, Ana’s story isn’t mine. I think that might be what’s missing. We have a million different stories. Some are tragic, some are complicated, some are joyful and successful. We are as multi-faceted and layered as anyone else. I think what’s missing is that commonality. The idea that immigrant families are tied to one narrative. The more stories we see, the more complicated multi-layered women we see, the more complex and interesting that tapestry becomes.

What has been the reaction to the film so far as it has been screened? 

It’s been very positive. We’ve been blown away by the response and I continue to be humbled by the entire experience. Having a story like ‘Long Gone By’ on a huge network like HBO will mean it is going to reach so many people!

What do you hope audiences will take away most from watching this? 

I can’t say enough about HBO and their commitment to investing in unknown Latinx talent. I have been in this industry for a long time and to have a platform like this to show our work is just extraordinary. So many people make noise about the need for investing in more Latinx content  and HBO is actively doing that. There is not a single [well-known celebrity] “name” in this film. They just took the film on based on its merit and the work and that’s huge. I’m hopeful audiences can connect with the passion and genuine love that went into making this movie. 

As we are in the middle of an election year and immigration is a very important issue, what is your approach in conversations about this topic given your background and the work you are doing? 

Tell the truth, be open to conversation and evolution of thought, and listen. I think most of us have more in common than we think we do and finding the space where our disagreements intersect is the key to moving forward.

You can watch ‘Long Gone By’ on HBO digital platforms now. Head to the ‘Long Gone By’ website to learn more about the cast and crew, including Erica Munoz.

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