Fairfield University’s DiMenna-Nyselius Library hosted the screening of the student-created and student-led documentary “Johana” on Thursday, Oct. 20. This documentary portrays the story of Johana Rivadeneira, an Ecuadorian immigrant who illegally moved with her family to the United States when she was nine years old. 

The 10-minute story, which is available for free on YouTube, portrays the difficult years of the Rivadeneira family as they endured the nation’s complicated immigration process.  The documentary showcases how the family lived with the constant fear of being deported while doing normal day-to-day activities.

Feleicia Jeter, program coordinator at the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, relayed the significance of showing the “lived experiences” of members of the Fairfield Latino community.

Jeter states , “It was important for us to show this documentary mainly because it’s about immigration and […] we are trying to advocate for undocumented students, trying to show their experience coming to America, and making sure that we advocate for all of students across campus. But also, this film was made by two students who went to AI [Academic Immersion], so we wanted to showcase their work and the advocacy they are doing”

Created for their Introduction to Film and Video Production course with Professor Patrick Brooks during the Spring 2022 semester, “Johana” was directed by students John Anthony Rivadeneira ‘25, Justin Sabogal ‘25 and Jack McGlinchy ‘24. 

The trio participated in the special film screening and Q&A session sponsored by the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office.

Rivadeneira starts his participation in the documentary by providing a sociopolitical criticism of the years-long immigration process that his family, like thousands of other American immigrants, had to survive in order to achieve a new life in the United States.

“The immigration process here is […] unfair, it’s unjust; people really risk their lives to come to this country,” said John Anthony Rivadeneira in his first appearance in the film. 

His comments are a reflection of the never-ending political limbo that immigrants from South and Central America describe enduring throughout their immigration process from their origin country to the US Southern Border. 

According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, it is estimated that there were 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants throughout the nation from 2015 to 2018.

During a Q&A organized by the SDMA office, Rivadeneira, Sabogal and McGlinchy answered questions from the crowd regarding the inspiration for the documentary and the challenges encountered while recording.

On his motivation for producing “Johana,” John Anthony Rivadeneira told the crowd he “always wanted to make a documentary about my family and about immigration.”

“I feel like there is not a lot of media out there that really show people’s story or talk about how long it takes to become a US citizen and get your papers,” he told the students who attended the event. 

However, documenting the issue of US immigration was not the group’s first idea when they were tasked with creating a film for their class. Initially, one of the friends, McGlinchy, suggested they do a documentary about his roommate’s intramural basketball team, but that concept was later abandoned and replaced with the Rivadeneira family story.

They also explained to the audience the difficulties of filming certain scenes for the documentary, which was mostly composed of first-year students, in search of the First Year Experience Diversity, Equity and Inclusion credit. In particular, the film directors described the struggles to film the basement scenes, due to the cold temperatures and one of the family concerns as the place used to house then-illegal citizens.

First-year Billy Streek was one of the students who went to the Library Auditorium to see “Johana,” but encountered a room packed with fellow students looking for the DEI credit. 

“I was really interested in what it was going to be talking about and I also wanted to meet up with my classmates and watch the video,” said Streek, who was one of over two dozen students sitting on the floor, as the number of students exceeded the seating capacity. 

For first-year student Alex Petersen, watching the documentary provided him with an “insightful” perspective on the challenges immigrants face.

“I thought it was very well put together. I always enjoy hearing about people’s experiences; I think that’s something important,” said Petersen. “I haven’t heard too many experiences like that, so I think it’s good that they are trying to put that out for people to hear about and be able to learn about.”

Rivadeneira also reflected on the topic of having his story go public. 

“It feels crazy and weird because you all know my whole family’s story, but that’s good, that’s the whole purpose of why we made it,” said Rivadeneira as he described the feelings of having his family’s story go public. “Our film actually was shown at CineFest, which is the Fairfield film festival. It was pretty cool that a lot of people actually showed up.”

Each year, Fairfield University’s Film, Television and Media Arts program hosts its Annual Cinefest Film Festival, which according to FairfieldNews, “celebrate the diligence and creative talents of Fairfield’s up-and-coming undergraduate student filmmakers.”

During the 2022 Cinefest held on April 29, “Johana” took home awards in the categories of “Best Film,” “Best Directing” and “Audience Award.” 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated the SDMA’s Program Coordinator last name. She is Feleicia Jeter, not James.

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