I first met Dr. Fernandez in a very roundabout way.
My husband Stephen is a guitar teacher. One day a family called us for lessons for their young daughter. As with all new students, the relationship was simply a teacher-student one; we did not know much about the family at all. The daughter continued with her lessons for a few years.
I am a musician too, who also produces short music videos. For one, I needed a few children and I know that the Fernandez family had a younger son who would be perfect. I hired him to be in one, then a second video. Thus our relationship deepened into friendship. We also learned that the father was a doctor but we didn't know much more about him.
One day there happened to be a long article about Dr. Fernandez's story in a newspaper. It was fascinating. I called him to congratulate him; this was in 2015. His daughter had stopped her lessons by then, yet he graciously invited us to his house where he gave us two personalized and signed copies of his autobiography, called "Undocumented".
When we went home I immediately started reading it. The story was so compelling and gripping that I read it very quickly. I knew that this story had to be spread far and wide, especially since the topic of immigration is so charged in the US and indeed around the world. I knew it would make not only a fascinating film, but that it was greatly needed in these times.
I asked Dr. Fernandez for a meeting, where I proposed the idea of making a film based on his book. "Your story HAS to be known by as many people as possible, and film is the perfect medium. Would you let me be the one to do it? Oh and by the way, I've never made a film before..."
Well, to my great surprise and gratitude, he trusted me with his life's story. And so started our journey.
As a first-time filmmaker "I didn't know what I didn't know." All I knew was that his story had to get out into the wider world. I had no idea how much it would cost, nor how long it would take. I just wanted it out before the 2016 presidential election, to show by one man's story how important and valuable immigrants are to our country, and the struggles they have to conquer.
So I pulled a budget number out of thin air and aimed to release it before the election. Knowledgeable people told me I didn't have enough money, raised through crowd-funding, to make a film. Nor did I have enough time--5 months from start to finish. I had started writing the script in January 2016, and started filming immediately after the close of the funding in May. I'm actually grateful that I was too ignorant to have been discouraged from the start, and too stubborn to listen to the experts.
However, by working around the clock we finished on budget and on time, just a few weeks before the election. Unfortunately our local art house theater where I wanted the first screening could not schedule it until 5 days AFTER the election. But as it turned out, the film is needed NOW MORE THAN EVER.
In the following year the film traveled across the country, playing in film festivals and seen by many, often to packed houses and standing ovations. And to my astonishment and gratitude, it picked up awards, honors and offers from distributors along the way. Now it is time for the film to fly out into the world...
It is my hope that many people worldwide will see it and be moved. It is not only a story about immigration, but a human story of unwavering love, determination, sacrifice, danger, courage and ultimately triumph. It's a testament to the human spirit. I'm so lucky and grateful to Dr. Fernandez that he entrusted me to tell his remarkable story in film.
Patricia Shih, January 25, 2018
HOW THIS FILM CAME TO BE