Raw Look at Immigration Crucible

A scene from one of the videos by three local filmmakers who are plumbing the debate. One of their videos, about a banner in Manassas opposing racism, has been viewed 38,000 times.
A scene from one of the videos by three local filmmakers who are plumbing the debate. One of their videos, about a banner in Manassas opposing racism, has been viewed 38,000 times.
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007

In one video, a man furious about hearing Spanish at a hardware store berates a group of Latino families with a lecture on American history, telling them "my ancestors were here before the Constitution." A little girl shyly reminds him: "The Indians were here before the Americans."

In another clip, a woman asks county officials not to forget "who was responsible for 9/11 -- illegals," while a man tells them, "Don't confuse the 9/11 with the 7-Eleven. . . . The guys at the 7-Eleven just want to work."

Other scenes show worried, frustrated residents denouncing a "foreign invasion" and warning of "civil war," to which one scowling young man taunts: "Bring it."

The illegal-immigration clash that has consumed Prince William County neighborhoods and government halls is now showing up in serial form on YouTube, archived and freely available in all its raw intensity.

The footage, posted by local filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler, is neither pretty nor polished. But the couple adds a chapter nearly every day, offering all sides a chance to be seen and heard, as well as a forum for well-mannered debate to those willing to engage in it.

Park and Byler describe their project as an interactive documentary that aims to defuse tensions and explore the complexity of the issue. Their clips are loaded with the unfiltered emotions that have flooded county streets and county politics, but the filmmakers allow the material to stand on its own, without narration or commentary. A more complete documentary might come later, they say, but for now their goal is to edit and upload the footage as fast as possible to their site, http://www.youtube.com/9500Liberty.

"What you normally do is shoot, then edit, then enter film festivals," said Byler, 35, a Gainesville resident. "On that trajectory, people would see this film for the first time next summer. That's a long time to wait. If the movie is meant to create dialogue, why release it after things may have already shifted?"

With little more than a basic video camera and laptop computers, Byler, Park and a third partner, Jeff Man, have spent the past few months filming Prince William's efforts to enact the region's toughest measures targeting illegal immigrants. Before the county supervisors voted last week to cut off certain services to illegal immigrants and increase immigration enforcement by the police, Byler and Park recorded the session of emotional public testimony, which lasted more than 12 hours.

Excerpts of the testimony have been posted in installments on their site, along with their most-viewed clip, set at the so-called Liberty Wall in Manassas, which has been viewed more than 38,000 times.

The five-minute video tracks the fate of a large banner in Manassas that reads "Stop Your Racism to Hispanics" and hangs from the last wall of a recently demolished house at 9500 Liberty St. -- "at the intersection of Liberty and Prince William Street," the filmmakers note. The banner has been a symbol of the county's tension, as well as a target for it, having survived a dud Molotov cocktail attack only to later be ripped in half by vandals.

"People are writing to us and saying, 'What can we do?' " Park said. "They want to get involved."

Park, 39, was born in Korea but grew up in Houston and Rockville. Before Prince William became a flashpoint for the nation's immigration debate, she led a successful campaign for a U.S. House resolution urging Japan to apologize for the sexual enslavement of "comfort women" during World War II.

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