Anyone who knows award-winning Phoenix journalist Valeria Fernandez knows that for four years now she and her collaborator, filmmaker Dan DeVivo, have been working on a documentary about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's reign of terror and error in Maricopa County, a film ultimately titled Two Americans.
Fernandez and DeVivo's film is finally finished and is scheduled to debut at the Arizona International Film Festival in Tucson this Friday at 7 p.m. Well, I should say "almost finished" because as I type this, Valeria and her cohorts are working furiously to make sure there are Spanish-language subtitles to portions of the film that are in English.
The film follows Arpaio as he hunts illegal immigrants, terrorizing anyone in Maricopa County with brown skin or an accent, but it also delves into Arpaio's lust for power, the profound corruption of his office, and his retaliation against anyone who opposes him.
Contrasted with this Mephistophelean character is American-born Katherine Figueroa, a 9 year-old girl whose parents are arrested and incarcerated as a result of Arpaio's raid on a Phoenix carwash. Figueroa garners national attention when a YouTube video of her, tearful and appealing for the help of President Obama, goes viral.
Thrust into the media spotlight, this courageous youngster takes up her parents' cause, participating in demonstrations and even testifying before a Congressional panel about her experience.
Fernandez says she and DeVivo began working on an Arpaio documentary in 2008, but it wasn't until June of 2009, after Arpaio's car-wash raid and Figueroa's YouTube appeal (filmed by Phoenix videographer Dennis Gilman with the assistance of Respect/Respeto's Lydia Guzman) that they decided to focus on Figueroa as a foil for Arpaio.
(See the film's trailer after the jump.)
"It was then we decided we would tell Katherine's story," Fernandez told me, taking a break from the editing room. "It became clear that [her struggle] would be central to the film."
Among those interviewed for the film is Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey, who along with VVM CEO Jim Larkin, was wrongly arrested and imprisoned by the MCSO in 2007.
"This is the most out of control law enforcement in America," Lacey says of the sheriff's office in the film's trailer. "No one from the Mexican on the street to the presiding judge of the criminal court, no one is safe."
During the filming, DeVivo established a rapport with the sheriff, which allowed for capturing unscripted moments when Arpaio reveals his true self. The documentary also shows the ugliness of bigotry in Maricopa County and offers insight into the force that creates it: fear.
Like in this quote in the trailer from one elderly woman:
"Most older people are afraid of children, and afraid of people who don't obey the law, because those people are nasty...You have to be punished."
That one quote from the Two Americans trailer says volumes about how we got to the place we're at today in this county. And it's an indicator of just how eye-opening this film will be, even to those of us who think we've heard it all about Sheriff Joe.
The full press release from the filmmakers follows. To support the making of this documentary, check out the filmmakers' fundraising page at indiegogo.com/TwoAmericans.
Two Americans debuts at Arizona International Film Festival, April 13, at 7 p.m., Crossroads Festival Cinemas, 4811 East Grant Road, Tucson, AZ
PHOENIX (April 6, 2012) Two Americans is a riveting documentary tracing the parallel stories of America's self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff" and the 9-year-old American daughter of undocumented immigrants arrested in one of the sheriff's workplace raids.
Directed by Dan DeVivo and Valeria Fernández, the film premieres April 13 as part of the opening night ceremony of the prestigious Arizona International Film Festival. Congressman Raul Grijalva will be introducing the film.
The central protagonists of Two Americans symbolize Arizona's and the nation's polarized stance on the immigration debate. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a master of spin who targets unauthorized immigrants in a never-ending quest for publicity. Katherine grows up overnight when faced with the loss of her parents, who like other immigrants have been forced to live in the shadows and denied their dignity.
What sets the documentary apart is the level of access that the filmmakers were granted into the lives of both of the film's protagonists.
"As a filmmaker I really didn't expect that Sheriff Arpaio would allow me into the heart of his operation as closely as he has," said DeVivo. "Viewers will gain an amazing insight into the mind of one of America's most popular politicians."
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Fernández said that "at a vulnerable time in their lives, Kathy's family opened the doors to allow us to tell their story."
"They trusted us because they knew that Kathy's experience is that of countless other children," said Fernández.
Two Americans premieres amidst controversy. Just this month, Arpaio refused to cooperate with the Department of Justice after they found his agency engaged in civil rights violations for the racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio is also caught in the crosshairs of Citizens For A Better Arizona, a spin-off of the same group that successfully campaigned to recall Senator Russell Pearce just last year.
The documentary is the follow up to DeVivo's earlier work, Crossing Arizona - which took top honors at the Arizona International Film Festival in 2006 and was an Official Selection of the Sundance Film Festival. Co-director, Fernández is an award winning freelance journalist with a decade of experience covering Arizona's rancorous immigration debate. Her stories have appeared in countless news outlets nationwide and internationally, including CNN En Español.