The world of documentary filmmaking offers aspiring cinema generals an interesting new arena to display their craft. The genre requires a creator to blend his or her creative side with a journalistic sense of truth, all while maintaining an intriguing and insightful premise. The stiff demands on documentary filmmakers make such an artist both rare and treasured in the land of the silver screen. So where would the industry moguls find such an elusive and unique type of writer?
Hint: You’re here.
Brittany Hammer, senior communication studies major, produced a film titled “Si, Se Puede!” for a documentary production class last spring. The film, which tells the story of two undocumented immigrants living in Princeton, went on to be featured in both the American Journal of Short Film and the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival.
The 14-minute film revolves around brothers Carlos and Salvatore Conde, two undocumented Mexicans who work as busboys in a restaurant with Hammer. The film explores the mens’ thoughts on the immigration debate. Carlos and Salvatore find themselves caught in the middle of a liberal faction demanding that Congress grant them amnesty and a conservative horde damning them and seeking their deportation.
“We are not here to rob people,” exclaim Carlos and Salvatore throughout the movie. “We only want to work.”
“Si, Se Puede!” portrays the immigrant’s struggle through scenes of public demonstrations and “day-in-the-life” style interviews with Carlos and Salvatore. Hammer and her film crew’s empathy for the pair’s plight was a driving force behind the film.
“The goal for the documentary was to give them a voice,” Hammer said. “They were very open in interviews about their personal lives. The translators provided them a means for political interaction that they never had before while they lived in the U.S.”
Hammer came up with the idea for “Si, Se Puede!,” which means “Yes, We Can!,” while brainstorming for a project in Dr. Susan Ryan’s documentary production class last year.
“I was not sure which topic interested me the most,” Hammer said. “I decided to ask my coworkers what they thought about participating in a documentary project. After they agreed, I shared this with the class and I was fortunate that four other classmates were interested as well.”
Hammer plans to attend graduate school next fall in order to build on the techniques she learned in the communication studies department. With her impending departure in May, Hammer reflected on her experiences she shared with her professor and her peers.
“Dr. Susan Ryan has been a great inspiration to me over my time at (the College),” Hammer said. “Before enrolling in (the College), I enjoyed film solely for its entertainment value. However, after studying with Dr. Ryan and learning the multi-faceted layers of film, I have found a new passion for the field.”
Hammer also praised her classmates’ contributions to the film. Brian Lilola, an interactive multimedia major who graduated last semester, served as the director; Rob Mirabella, senior communication studies major, worked the cameras. Jocelyn Sierra, a communication studies major who graduated last semester, and Kelsey Urena, junior communication studies major, conducted the interviews with Carlos and Salvatore and translated their dialogue.
“As a group we were like a puzzle where everyone brought their individual talents together to work toward the bigger picture,” Hammer said. “From camera work and editing to translations and organization, we worked together and produced this film.”
In 14 minutes and four seconds, Hammer and her diligent crew managed to capture the heart of the ceaseless struggle of America’s blue-collar backbone. She managed to give a voice to a group of disenfranchised and voiceless people, and she hasn’t even graduated college yet.
With a startling amount of professional and societal success this early in her brief career, there’s no telling what lies ahead for this bright young filmmaker.