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Spotlight: A Honduran Family Separated by Zero-Tolerance

By David Schonauer   Tuesday October 1, 2019


Filmmaker Isabel Castro met Darlin in July 2018.

Concerned over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, Castro, an Emmy-nominated Mexican-American journalist and filmmaker with the production company Tertulia Pictures, had gone to a detention center in Texas and volunteered to give a ride to a woman due to be released.

“The facility was running about three hours late, and it was really hot. A security guard in a golf cart circled the perimeter of the facility. He reprimanded me for taking a photograph on my phone. I got back into my car and blasted the air-conditioning,” she recalled recently at The New York Times.

When the woman, a 26-year-old Honduran named Darlin, finally emerged, she looked tired and confused, noted Castro. “She didn’t have any family there to meet her; her partner, Jefry, and son, Hamilthon, were still in government custody. During the drive to Houston, we made small talk about her nearly two-month stay in detention after arriving from Honduras. When we stopped to eat dinner, she hardly touched her food.”

Their relationship soon went further. “Documenting things helps me understand them, and in an attempt to understand a government policy that was incomprehensible to me, I asked if I could film her,” Castro noted. “She agreed. While she waited for her family to be released from custody, she did my hair and we talked about dating and my dog and she gave me cooking tips. I tried to understand her family’s legal process and explain what was happening.”

The result is a short documentary featured this summer by The New York Times OpDoc series.


The documentary was also highlighted by Short of the Week. “[A] fidelity to factual on-the-ground reporting and the sometimes lyrical sensibilities of documentary’s artistic wing is what makes Darlin interesting to me,” wrote Jason Sondhi.

“As a story intertwined with a current hot-button issue (immigrant detention and family separation in the United States) it is squarely in the contemporary camp of hard-news adjacent issue docs, valiantly working to communicate something fundamental about a topic wrenching the fabric of public discourse,” noted Sondhi.

What he finds particularly interesting, he adds, “is the way Isabel Castro’s film bumps against, and attempts to stretch past, the confines of the genre.”

“Documentary is simultaneously easy and hard—easy because we are inherently fascinated with people,” Sondhi noted. “Put a person in front of a camera, and if they are in the midst of compelling circumstance you’re likely to achieve a high baseline of quality and audience interest. However the leap from ‘good’ to ‘great’ is extraordinarily difficult. It’s one thing to image emotion onscreen, it’s another to produce it. It’s the difference between giving space for a person’s story and storytelling."

Castro filmed for three months, until Darlin was reunited with her family, and then she left. “I thought I would feel relief. Instead, seeing them together had made me hold my breath longer, more deeply,” she noted at The Times. “I realized then that they had only made it to the starting line of a long, arduous and volatile legal process that is difficult to predict or prepare for.”

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