5/24/2010 11:19:00 AM Immigration: Documentary draws small, receptive audience
Filmmaker Eric Byler.
Ken Hedler Special to the Tribune
Filmmaker Eric Byler has been taking a documentary on a battle over illegal immigration in Prince William County, Va., on the road to film festivals and cinemas throughout the country.
The 80-minute film, "9500 Liberty," premiered Friday at the Harkins Theatres in Prescott Valley, 28 days after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the nation's toughest law on illegal immigration.
Among other things, SB 1070 empowers law enforcement officers to question people about their residency status if police have reason to believe they are in America illegally.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform drafted the resolution in Prince William County and SB 1070 in Arizona.
However, the timeliness of the documentary on immigration and publicity did not translate into a box-office success here for Byler. Only 12 people attended a 7:40 p.m. showing Friday in which Byler introduced the film and answered questions from the audience afterward.
"Documentaries are a hard sell on a Friday night," Byler said after the showing. He added that he created the movie to make a statement.
While speaking to the audience after the film, he made a point that the loudest voices are speaking out on the issue of illegal immigration, and being magnified by talk radio and cable television.
"We are trying to give a voice to the people who are not participating," he told the audience.
He said afterward that he considers it "unfair" to characterize SB 1070 supporters as "racist. It is unproductive."
However, he added, "Facts are really on the side of people who oppose the law."
While Byler drew a small audience, those who attended seemed receptive to his message, and praised the film, which he directed with his girlfriend, Annabel Park.
"I thought it was extremely well done, and I wish we could create a moderate voice to sort of balance the other side," Lena Hubin, a retired English Language Learners teacher who lives in Prescott, said after the question-and-answer period. "This seems to be kind of balanced, good picture of it all."
Expressing similar views, aspiring filmmaker Ed Richey of Dewey-Humboldt commented, "I thought it was very thought-provoking. It was a fair representation of the immigration issue and poignant for Arizona at this time."
Referring to lukewarm attendance, Richey said, "Yavapai County is so conservative, and I got a feeling there is a great amount of this population already on one side emotionally. I don't think they took the opportunity to attend something like this (movie)."
Richey and his mother, Anita, were among several people who asked Byler questions and made comments.
Byler's film documents a battle over illegal immigration in Prince William County - one of the wealthiest in the nation - that coincided with the growth of the Hispanic population from 1990 to 2006. County supervisors in 2007 adopted a resolution that required police to conduct immigration status checks based on "probable cause." The supervisors later repealed the resolution after a backlash.
The film contains footage of public hearings and debates of the supervisors - and interviews with members of opposing factions in Manassas, Va.
The documentary was "super low budget," said Byler, a Los Angeles native who lives in Gainesville, Va.