by Jana Monji, AsAmNews Contributor
Unseen a documentary that was recently screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, tells the story of a blind, undocumented immigrant.
According to the Firelight Media website, filmmaker Set Hernandez (Rongkilyo) is from Bicol, Philippines and an undocumented immigrant. As such you can imagine the plight of undocumented immigrant Pedro, the focus of the documentary Unseen, is close to Hernandez’s heart. Pedro lost his eyesight as a teen.
What we first see in this film are the overexposed images of the city, Pedro and his black Labrador retriever, Tyler. The lack of clear imagery forces us to listen to the sounds. Slowly the images take shape. Pedro is waiting for a bus. A person whose face the audience can’t clearly see requests the handicap seat be vacated for Pedro. Pedro allows his dog to be touched by a fellow passenger.
Hernandez met Pedro because both were in an undocumented immigrant program. Noting that stories of disabled immigrants haven’t really been “uplifted,” Hernandez began documenting Pedro’s life, following Pedro for six year as Pedro spends every term searching for his classroom, but finally earns his master’s degree.
Pedro came to the US at age 16 and five weeks, but to qualify for DACA, a minor must have entered before the age of 16. Pedro has a heavy weight to bear; his parents came to the US to give him opportunities, but how will he support them and himself now?
There are also some limitations to the blurred images: some are technical and others are artistic, especially when streaming a preview film at home. With better technology, such as the South Korean innovative 4DX cinematic technology or even an expanded screen of ScreenX, this could really be an interesting experience.
Artistically, there is no clear capturing of classic composition or motion in the images on screen and after a while, the blurred images seem more an affectation.
Still, access to good eye care has long been an issue. Some US optometrists have recycling bins for old eyeglasses and the Lions Club has an international eyeglass recycling program. Pedro needs more than eyeglasses and his doctors have helped him to approach life in a different way, but he also uses technology that might not be available in other countries.
Hernandez is integrated into the documentary as more friend than distanced or objective observer. Thus, Unseen is also about Hernandez’s emotional journey as an undocumented resident. Filipinos have an identity issue, having been part of the US (until 1946).
Together with another documentary that screened at the festival, In Search of Bengali Harlem, this documentary helps explore the Asian experience as undocumented immigrants, rubbing shoulders with Latinos in the same situation.
Unseen had its US premiere on 6 May 2023 at the Japanese American National Museum as part of the 39th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. As one can imagine, the film is acutely aware of the limitations of others and to turn up the accessibility, it screens with open captions and audio description available. The film is Hernandez’s feature film directorial debut. In English and Spanish.
AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Please consider making a donation and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Information about interning, joining the staff or volunteering is here. We are supported by a grant from the California Library Commission and its Stop the Hate program. You can find more resources here.