Graduate student aims to depict immigration anxieties in upcoming film
Graduate student Shruti Parekh’s film “Esperanza” follows three protagonists who intend to illegally cross into Canada in the middle of the night, hoping to start a new life. She said the film embodies the dynamics of different immigrants and their viewpoints. (Anika Chakrabarti/Daily Bruin)
By Sean Moore
March 8, 2020 9:33 p.m.
The anxiety and tension of crossing the border come alive at night in “Esperanza.”
Shruti Parekh, a graduate student at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, said her film centers around three protagonists who intend to illegally cross the border into Canada in the middle of the night, hoping to start a new life. Now in the editing phase of postproduction, she said the short film will be finalized by end of May or early June, just in time for an end-of-the-year showcase. Parekh said she hopes to deliver a suspenseful drama by detailing not only the connection immigrants have with each other but also their opposing views of the United States.
“The reason so many people are crossing into Canada is because you can claim asylum,” Parekh said. “You’re not guaranteed to get it, but you can stay in Canada until you find out, and they usually treat you better.”
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Parekh’s inspiration for creating “Esperanza” was based on interviewing immigrants while working for a digital media organization that focuses on immigration efforts, where she often covered the illegal border crossings into Canada. Hearing the stories of people fleeing the United States sparked her interest in developing a film capable of encapsulating the crossing and the various sentiments immigrants had about leaving the U.S., she said.
The three fictional immigrants are Dev, Estrella and Marisol. Dev, an Indian immigrant and taxi driver, has been attempting to scrounge enough money in the U.S. so that he can bring the rest of his family from India to the U.S. for a better life. Parekh said Dev’s character is an example of an immigrant who truly believes in the American Dream but has been hardened by a lack of results.
However, contrasting Dev and his more common immigrant experience are Estrella and Marisol, a Salvadorian lesbian couple, who are fleeing the U.S. to start a family in Canada. The two came to the U.S. under temporary protected status 15 years prior to when the film takes place, but that has since expired, leaving them unable to find steady jobs. Their differing opinions on whether or not to illegally cross into Canada drive most of the film’s conflict, but Parekh said it’s when the two hop into Dev’s taxi that the story really begins as they connect to each other over their immigrant experiences.
As the audience follows the three protagonists, Parekh said the film’s tension is mostly derived from its setting, which takes place almost entirely at night. Graduate student Ingrid Sanchez, the film’s cinematographer, said shooting at night allowed the tone of the film to feel more anxious and uncertain since the darkness created an environment where the characters felt isolated.
“Everything is shot at night, aside from one scene at dawn that gives the most hopeful moment of the film,” Sanchez said. “Everything else played at night provides this more moody quality and adds to this idea of fear and being unsure of what the future holds.”
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While the film’s timing and lighting provide a subtle undertone of unease and bolster the narrative, producer Laura Scarano said it was not without its challenges. She said reserving sets and obtaining the required nighttime permits were particularly challenging as many places do not want to stay open after business hours, which increased the price of shooting.
“Filming in certain neighborhoods at night requires you to have to ask all the nearby residents if it’s alright to film there,” Scarano said. “They usually charge extra, which isn’t great when you’re on a limited budget.”
Despite the funding concerns and the technicalities of shooting, Scarano said she hopes by June, audiences will be able to understand that immigration isn’t just a black-and-white issue. The people who are immigrating or emigrating to or from the U.S. can’t be boxed in by stereotypes, she said. Parekh wants “Esperanza” to embody the dynamics of different immigrants and their viewpoints, and she hopes the suspenseful realism of the script and camerawork will help their stories come alive.
“‘Esperanza’ is about immigrants in the U.S., but it’s also about their differences and how they are put at odds with one another because of a larger situation,” Parekh said. “This is a meditation on a system that forces people to make decisions that hurt each other; it’s about the consequences of choices we can make as an individual.”