My American Dream

Institute History

  • 2006 Documentary Edit and Story Lab


In the summer of 2001, filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini decided to follow the intersecting and intertwined lives of 24 people engaged in the political struggle over immigration. They ended up shooting an epic tale, a story of modern politics from inside and outside. The journey took them deep inside Washington and to a small town in Iowa, into the internal wars of the Republican Party of Kansas and to the Arizona border.

From the heady days prior to 9/11 in 2001, when real reform seemed possible, through the dark reversals that followed the onset of the War on Terror, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the success of anti-immigrant ballot measures in Arizona, and elections in Arizona, Iowa, and Kansas that hinged on immigration, to the slow painstaking campaign to introduce national legislation and the many twists and turns that have brought immigration reform to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness—a remarkable dramatic arc is all there in the footage.

After five years of startling, behind-the-scenes access and more than 1,200 hours of filmed material, what has emerged is a chronicle of the process of social change and, taking viewers past the clichés and the polarizing sound bites that fill public discourse, the story of the way democracy works now.

Locations include Washington, D.C. (inside the Senate, the House, and the offices of labor, business, and the advocacy community), Arizona (Phoenix, Tucson, the Mexican border, Congressional primaries, and a ballot-proposition campaign), California (grassroots and union groups in L.A., Visalia, Sacramento), Iowa, Kansas, Texas, and Minnesota.

Over the past few months, the team has begun the edit, working out issues of structure and narrative style. During this period, associate producers and interns logged the entire body of footage (the log has a detailed database of more than 17,700 individual shots) and prepared full transcripts (to date) for more than 600 hours.

Now as editing and final filming take place, the project is slated for completion in 2007. The filmmakers envision a feature-length film to be complemented by a series of hour-long television programs, back-story and educational DVDs, and a multiuse website.

Robertson and Camerini hope the films will ultimately inspire as much as they shock and, through their intimate portraits of personal defeats and victories, remind viewers that it’s still true—this country is the result of millions of intersecting lives, but it is shaped by those with a dream.

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