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Immigrant Nation is a new interactive storytelling project designed to document the United States’ diverse immigrant narratives and experiences and share them with the world. Filmmaker Theo Rigby discusses his hopes for the iNation platform.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Theo Rigby: For me, the most rewarding moments of life as an independent filmmaker is when the work I create truly connects with an audience. When someone comes up to you and thanks you for the work that you do because it profoundly resonated with them, that’s what it’s all about.
Which filmmaker(s) inspired you to get behind the lens?
Theo Rigby: Still photographers actually first inspired me to get behind the lens: Eugene Richards, Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka and early Mary Ellen Mark work, to name a few of many.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Theo Rigby: Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light is both beautiful and harrowing, anything by Heddy Honigmann is sure to be compelling — try crazy — and if you can get your hands on Miklós Jancsó’s Red Psalm, you won’t be disappointed… The entire film is five or six 10-11-minute takes, the running time of a 400-foot reel of 16mm film.
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your interactive short?
Theo Rigby: Immigrant Nation is really designed to engage people with their personal immigrant stories. Some of us are recent immigrants and live that story daily, but many have immigrant histories that go back generations, and we often don’t fully know the story of our heritage. These stories are key to who we are, how we identify, what languages we speak, foods we eat, communities that we are part of, and so much more, yet we don’t often talk about our personal immigrant narratives. The iNation online story hub, our films, educators guide and live events across the country all aim to bring our personal stories to the surface in an effort to humanize the discussions we have around immigration issues in the U.S.
Why did you choose to create an interactive documentary as opposed to telling this story through another medium?
Theo Rigby: The story of iNation is really the collective immigrant and migrant history of our country. Due to this, the user-generated component of this project is elemental, and all of the other pieces of the project revolve around those that interact with iNation and tell their own stories. This project truly is cross-platform, and extends to many analog forms of storytelling, short documentary films, photographs, text, poetry, 2-D art, spoken word, oral histories and live storytelling events in classrooms, museums and communities. This diversity of storytelling mediums reflects the diversity and complexity of where we all come from, and has proved an effective way to engage different people in telling their personal stories.
What additional insights have you gained about the perception of immigrants and immigration in America from making this project?
Theo Rigby: I’ve been doing work around immigration issues in the Unites States for about 10 years. From my short film, Sin País (POV 2012), to starting and directing a class for undocumented youth to tell their own stories, and working on still photo projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. Starting and building iNation have both shown me myriad challenges in engaging people around their immigrant stories. Whether a year ago, or 100 years ago, our immigrant histories are usually filled with hardship, sacrifice and suffering of some kind, which innately makes us not want to share or dwell on them. However, when the right situation is facilitated to create a safe space that welcomes these often painful stories, there is an immense power in transference of these histories.
Was there an aspect of the project you would’ve liked to include but had to cut?
Theo Rigby: In the process of building the iNation story hub we had a lot of conversations about the push-pull dynamic between designing a website that is beautiful, and one that utilitarian. We didn’t want to make a wonderfully gorgeous website that nobody could use, or merely came away with a “that was pretty” response, and we didn’t want to make an online experience that was similar to other tell-your-story pieces online. The aesthete in me could say that I wish we had made a more linear experience, where the user sits back and experiences a visually beautiful journey that we created for them, however, the choose-your-own-adventure way that we’ve built the site, with a focus on the user-generated stories, goes much farther to accomplish the goals of the project and engage people in a more active experience.