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Route Sharing: For the First Time Since the Memory

Entre Film Center and the Texas Archive of the Moving Image Compare Archival Memories

Intro by A.E. Hunt

In 2021, C. Diaz and Andres Sanchez co-founded Entre, a film center and regional archive in the Rio Grande Valley. They offer their community equipment rentals on a sliding scale, intensive documentary production workshops, and programming tailored to local audiences, which includes the films made in the workshops. Similar to US film festivals that offer artist development in addition to original programming, Entre enables a sustainable loop of action: the more they give the community the more the community demands and gives back; Entre bounds its growth to the people it serves. And by enabling both the production of new documentaries and oral histories from the region, the center grows the Rio Grande Valley’s archive in both directions—preserving both the present and the past, for future generations.

TAMI [Texas Archive of the Moving Image], a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, does similar work for the state at large, preserving and restoring industrial, commercial, narrative, and personal archives. The collection is unique for how liberally it showcases its materials, cutting together new films from combined footage and posting clips on Instagram and TikTok. It also holds footage of the Rio Grande Valley, albeit often from an outsider's perspective.

TAMI’s Managing Director Elizabeth Hansen and Technical Director Ari Regalado talked with Entre co-founders Diaz and Sanchez to compare archival memories of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and on occasion their own families. Also in attendance, I occasionally ask a follow-up question. As Entre partnered with Sentient Art Film to screen Lo Que Queda En El Camino to audiences in the valley, the conversation begins with Sanchez and Diaz recalling the event.

Elizabeth Hansen: Tell me about how you got involved with the screening of Lo Que Queda en El Camino with Sentient Art Film?

Andres Sanchez: They wanted to host a string of screenings along the border, and have that dialogue about things like immigration rights, ideally with communities who were undocumented.

C. Diaz: When Sentient Art Film first asked, we didn’t have the capacity to organize something at that level. We like not to force things, but for them to organically evolve. So we stuck to our sentiments, and sure enough, [SAF] came back around with a whole plan and funding, and by then we had been building already too. We had connected with people in the community who were part of the networks and organizations doing on-the-ground work with migrant communities here in the valley, whether that be through the legal system, housing, or schooling for children on the borders. It was like a kismet situation: “Now we have the capacity to plan, to pay our partners and speakers,” and to be thoughtful about how we were going to organize the screening.

[We showed it on] May 7th at LUPE, in the main meeting hall. César Chávez and Dolores Huerta came to the valley in 89 and established that space.

Sanchez: It’s an extension of the United Farm Workers Union.

Diaz: We chose to work with them and we included the Sidewalk School, an organization who runs migrant camps in Matamoros and Reynosa, providing food, water, electricity, wifi, schooling, and teachers for the children there—all things they might need as they’re awaiting their appointments with CBP [US Customs and Border Protection]. They also help them navigate the CBP apps. We also partnered with Texas Civil Rights Project, which does legal assistance for immigrant or migrant communities, and Counselors without Borders, a network of therapists in the Rio Grande Valley area who are providing mental health support free of charge. These orgs talked about the pushback, and why things are the way they are right now in the Rio Grande Valley, and let that dialogue organically unfold after the film was screened with the audiences.

Ari Regalado: What did that discussion look like?

Sanchez: There were a lot of questions about how to get more involved with the Sidewalk School. A lot of folks weren’t aware of what they do or how much they do for being such a small squad of people.

Diaz: It’s just Felicia and Victor. One’s an ex-school teacher and the other’s an old IT guy. So he brings in all the wifi stuff and she brings in educational training.

Sanchez: One of the people who mediated the conversation was Alexis Bay, a fellow with the Texas Civil Rights Project. They shed a lot of light on the legislative side of things, like how Title 42 [under which many migrants were sent back across the border and denied the right to seek asylum, supposedly to contain the spread of covid-19] is coming to an end, and a lot of the changes that are going to be happening. We also had a member of LUPE speak on the panel about what they do to support undocumented people in their communities; [at the time of the screening] they were preparing to go to the capital to drop a flag while they were talking about HB7.

Diaz: They were painting the banners while we were setting up the space, so they were preparing to leave the following day for Austin to do this action.

Sanchez: We also gathered donations for Sidewalk School for all the materials they need for kids. The vibe was particularly intense because of the people who got run over in Brownsville right outside of a respite center [Ozanam Center, near where Sidewalk School is based]. All of those people died just that morning and the energy was so… it was great to be there with all those people who you knew were there for the same reason. We also had a moment of silence. And it made the film hit different. There are a shit ton of undocumented people down here. That’s a giant part of the Valley population.

Regalado: Screening spaces are usually very passive spaces—you go there, you’re in the dark, you digest it, and you leave. It’s very clear that the community was actively involved in the screening. How did you get people from the community into the screening space?

Diaz: We had conversations before with Tony [Nguyen] and Sophia [Haid] at Sentient about our concerns about this being very publicly advertised, due to the fact that people do come and disrupt things like this and bring border patrol or ICE to areas where people who could be undocumented are gathering. So we decided to keep it more network-based—we asked all of the organizations that we’re a part of to share it with their networks, rather than flyering as we normally do for our events. We were very much reliant on word of mouth, people telling one another, and the networks between these organizations. We didn’t want to attract something that could cause harm to the community that we want to serve.

Andres and I had a recap after the screening because it was very heavy, and I was very emotional throughout the day after the news that morning. Moving forward, how do we connect with people in our area? Because these people who came were in agreeance with what this film is for and what we’re trying to say, and the social justice around immigration. How do we go beyond that network of people who already agree? How can we show people a new way of perceiving a situation like what we’re experiencing here at the border? People who live here, we all come from that background. Mexico and Texas were one region before the river became a dividing force. We’re trying to reclaim that connection to our land. How do we reach people who may not have that language or perspective shared with them throughout their lives? How do we infiltrate these spaces and slowly shift people's perspectives about people who are fleeing their homes and trying to find refuge in a new country?

Hansen: The way we’ve gotten to know each other is because both TAMI and Entre have an interest in preserving the moving image heritage of our regions. What role do you think something like a home movie can play in the discussion of the fluidity of the border? How’s that interest in home movie preservation tie back into the community and screening work you’re doing?

Diaz: The archive and film center go hand in hand. The reality is a lot of people down here probably didn’t have the means to own a camera or film. But there are photographs and oral histories. To be able to connect with people in our community, not just on the Texas side, but the Mexican side, those archives bring us closer to who we were and are, how we’re all connected to the sun and living similar experiences—even though they may vary between families and between individuals, and even though our region is spread out across four counties, there is a common thread between our communities here in the valley. It’s like the river—it’s connecting all of us. Home movies and archives bring humanity back to this region—not just seeing it as one rife with conflict, violence, or poverty. These home movies highlight these joyful moments and celebrations. For us, the archive helps us move forward and connect with one another and the land again—bringing the community back together because it’s been severed for so long by these colonial forces.

Sanchez: A big part of our mission is to help the Valley tell its own story, as opposed to having our story be told for us by political and media influences. There’re a lot of people who have a perspective of this region that is shaped by something they see on TV, a news network, or social media. Rarely do you get a perspective from the horse's mouth, so to speak—from the people here. So home movies are a direct line to the personal lives and experiences here. Our archive can serve as an excellent light to shine over all these other narratives being imposed on us.

Hansen: One of the things that we have in our archive are old newsreels of the Valley from the 20s that paint the area in a not positive light. These are being produced by Hollywood studios. So it’s interesting to think of the home movie as a real artifact of a community rather than Hollywood coming in, or even someone from Austin coming in, to tell it.

A.E. Hunt: C, you mentioned oral histories. How are you going about recording and preserving those?

Diaz: That’s what I’m out here doing today. I’m at Sao Padre Island flyering for a closing event for this gallery exhibition where we set up a self-service oral history station for the community to come and share their stories about Boca Chica beach, which is where SpaceX is right now [where the Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico]. It’s becoming less and less accessible to the people whom it is most important to. It’s indigenous land for the Carrizo Comecrudo people, people from Mexico, undocumented folks, people from Brownsville. Families would go to the beach to spend the day and barbecue and fish and camp. Now that road to Boca Chica is getting closed down without notice for moving parts for a star base.

So one of our community archival efforts is a project called Boca Chica, Corazón Grande, and we’re collecting not only home movies and photographs of that space, but oral histories. This is a beginning effort to start a larger oral history collection, but we’ve just been setting up this self-service oral history station, which is this little enclosed podcast-type situation with a mic and padding so you don’t get a lot of reverberation. We put a zoom recorder with some instructions in English and Spanish for how to operate it, and how to state their name, age, and where they’re from before telling their story.

So far we’ve collected around 14 short oral histories. We’re using this as the jumping-off point to see what themes we want to explore in the long-form oral histories we want to do with the communities throughout the valley, not just about Boca Chica. We’re a baby archive; we just started in 2021, so this is a stepping stone.

But we’ve found that the self-service station is a great tool to set up at different pop-ups and things like that. So we hope to set it up when we do any other sort of outreach. We did outreach at the local Brownsville Flea Market. A couple of weeks before the show in Brownsville, we set up a table there and just talked about Boca Chica, Corazón Grande. We talked to one man for a while who told us his memories of the beach. Then he came back and donated 12 photographs of Boca Chica. We’re definitely going to be using those photographs to help tell these oral histories. “What’s going on in this photo? What do you remember from this time?” These are elements that allow for new oral histories to spark up. Some people are hesitant, like, “I don’t know, my memories are too quick.” No memory’s too small.

Regalado: I got really interested in archives and home movies and independent content creation when I was about 19. When I was in film school, I had a mentor, Chris Hill, who worked at the Video Data Bank and introduced me to the 1970s Portapak video artists. That led me to contemporary independent content creation. Having immigrant parents—my dad’s from Mexico, my mom is from Armenia—it really became a powerful way at that age for me to tell my own narrative and recontextualize my family history. How did you and Andres come to home movies and oral histories?

Diaz: The idea for this came out of my involvement with Echo Park Film Center when I lived in Los Angeles. I was really influenced by their ethos and the way they encourage community work. I was working in archives in LA, like with Moving Image Preservation and Feature Film Restoration. I also worked in the oral history department at the Academy, so I got a lot of oral history training. As a filmmaker, oral history is a great way to do documentary work—those interpersonal relationships and deep listening skills. It just made sense that these two things came together. We want people to learn about archives, the importance of preservation, and of talking with people and listening,and how all that plays into the long form of creating your own films. Those films you create become an archive of the time and space of the present moment, for the future.

Hansen: It’s been interesting from our side to teach people that their content might have an interest outside of their family. The way our program works is you get free digital copies of your materials, you get the materials back, and then you become part of a statewide resource. We do lesson plans and exhibits that utilize these things or bring them together with other people's content. Sometimes people just don’t wanna do it, and that’s fine too. Even though I’m an archivist, I think there’s beauty in letting something deteriorate, live its natural life, and go away. At the same time, I think there is a lot of great content in people’s closets, and basements—I guess you don’t really have basements in Texas—but under beds and in boxes. A friend of mine brought in a home movie of her father who died when she was a small child. We digitized this and she got to see him move for the first time since the memory.

One of the differences between our project and a lot of archival projects is that we basically have a 1:1 ratio of digitization, curation, and engagement—whereas another might have one person that does social media but 5 to 6 that do digitizing or 5 or 6 that do cataloging. All those things are equally important to us. If we digitize something and no one sees it, why did we even digitize it? From all the materials that come in, not everything goes online. If things are underlit, we won’t put it on the website unless there’s something else there that’s compelling. We can bring these things together into digital exhibitions. We don’t have an exhibition space, so we do everything online, whether that’s just posting videos to the library, or bringing those things together into a story.

I think a great example of this is our last exhibit about HemisFair’ 68. We were able to bring home movies together with local news coverage and other promotional films to tell you the story about what that event looked like. The exhibit’s mapped out so that you can see different parts of the grounds through different lenses. We’re also thinking about how teachers can use it too. HemisFair is maybe not as essential to the classroom. But seeing civil rights footage from the Valley to Houston brings that [history] to life. When I was in school, we maybe saw civil rights footage in Alabama, but that [movement] was happening everywhere. Getting to see actual footage of what the civil rights movement looked like in your own community makes that experience so much different for students.

Regalado: Usually whenever there were archival screenings in Chicago [where she moved from to Texas] the same cinephiles or academics attended. It was usually only 10, maybe 15 people. So it was really cool to see families at an archival footage screening, outdoors, for HemisFair. This is what archives are meant for!

Hansen: People in San Antonio love HemisFair. [laughs] We had about 150 people at that screening. It was people of all ages and backgrounds, but [who were all] lovers of San Antonio, HemisFair, that space and that topic, a one-time world fair event. They basically knocked down a neighborhood to build HemisFair. We do have footage in the exhibit of that. Now they’re revitalizing it from an old fairground with a lot of government buildings into places where people can live, with parks, etc. The park we had the screening at is now apparently one of the most visited parks in the state.

I envy you guys because you’re on the ground in one place and can have more intimate community conversations. But as an organization that serves the whole state, you get to meander around and meet people all over, like y’all.

Hunt: Did any of you learn anything surprising about your communities through your respective archives?

Hansen: I didn’t realize what a huge moviemaking industry existed in Dallas before I started working with TAMI; it goes back to the 40s and 50s. We worked with a lot of different people who worked for the Jamieson Film Company, which started in Dallas in the 20s. It’s not necessarily feature film productions but industrial films and commercials. We went to El Paso, where I was surprised by how many Jewish families contributed home movies. That’s one of our best collections from El Paso.

Sanchez: There haven’t been too many that have shown me something new about the valley. I’ve transferred a lot of birthday parties, quinceaneras, family gatherings… I see a lot of similarities between the way I grew up and these peoples’ lives and the commonalities in different families throughout the region has been interesting. Even people who didn’t begin their lives in the Valley but made their way here somehow. The way people arrange their homes, or do their Christmas gift-giving. There is one particular home movie that literally changed my life. It’s a New Year’s Eve party in Mexico where all the uncles and aunts are dancing in a field next to the house, a ranch property if I had to guess, and they’re blasting a fucking stereo. The night begins with Tejano music and ends with techno. By one AM they’re rocking out to the techno music. One song came on and I was like, this is a banger! But the tape had a wobble to it, so I couldn’t Shazam it.

After I finished transferring I set out on a journey to find this song. I started googling Mexican techno 1995. I looked through so many articles, Vice’s breakdown of Mexican techno from the 90s and Spotify playlists. Finally, on one Spotify Playlist, I found the original mix. So the one in the video’s a fucking remix—even more of a deep dive! I went to youtube and found six or seven remixes until I found the one. I went to Discogs because I’m a big vinyl person, found the remix in Spain, and bought the record.

Diaz: Nothing surprising, but… My grandfather’s archive, which I found in my grandma’s closet, was like 48 reels of Super 8 film. I had no idea it existed. When I was living in California I took it to my work and digitized everything to preserve it for my family. I didn’t really know my grandfather that well. He passed when I was in 5th or 6th grade. So seeing him behind and in front of the camera, and hearing stories from my family when we watched it on New Year's Eve—they were all shouting [their memories] over each other: “Oh, that day!” They hadn’t seen those films in so long. It was a privilege to have a camera at that time and capture Super 8 with magnetic audio tracks. That’s what sparked the thought in me that there have to be more films like this. That’s when I started researching with TAMI actually, in 2016.

Regalado: One thing that’s kind of surprised me, and maybe it shouldn’t have, is how many more independent filmmakers are out there than I ever would have thought. When I think of independent filmmaking, I still have this idea that they are films that show in a festival or a gallery. But there are actually a lot of home movies in our collection that are independent films that have maybe only been seen by the filmmakers’ friends and family.

We have a video diary that a woman made in San Francisco with non-diegetic sound and her voiceover interpreting San Francisco in the early 70s. We have the Ramon Galindo Collection, an entrepreneur, magician, independent filmmaker, tailor, veteran, etc. from Austin. He made a surrealist film with his daughter named Josephine’s Dream. For me, it has recontextualized what independent film is and how many people are DIY makers. I don’t think all of those people are thinking about themselves in that way, but so many people are.

Hansen: Ramon also has a short film called A Day of Horror, which is a little monster movie that he made with neighborhood kids and a guy from his work.

Hunt: Because these home movies are such intimate windows into peoples’ personal family lives, how are you thinking about preserving and exhibiting them responsibly and with consent?

Diaz: A lot of home movies in the Center for Home Movies collection, which is also in the Library of Congress, are online at the Internet Archive. There, we do sometimes license clips to archival producers who are doing documentaries, but we always make sure it’s OK with the [donors of the] home movies. At Entre, we operate in a post-custodial model, so we don’t own the copyright. We share access between ourselves; we have donor agreements where the donor can at any time change their mind if they don’t want their stuff publicly accessible. We haven’t gotten to a point where people have asked for licensing—that’s something we’ll have to think more deeply about and make a protocol for, while being open and flexible to working with our donors. It’s their memories. It’s whatever they wish. If they’re not around, who can control that estate? Who has that access and that authority?

How do you do it at TAMI?

Hansen: We only work with materials that we can use. Use can mean anything: putting it online, licensing it, creating our own content out of it… We’ve digitized almost 50,000 films and videos at this point, and we only have a staff of five people, so this is how we keep it simple. But we’ve never had any bad experiences. People get really excited when they see their materials on screen. One of our donors had their footage featured in Ken Burn’s Country Music and was super excited about it. There was one instance when I got a little scared, regarding a video that we put on TikTok called Little Baby Capricorn—in which this guy introduces his little brother and calls him “Little Baby Capricorn.”

The rapper Riff Raff stole the video from our Tiktok and put his album cover over the little kid. I was like, “Oh no. Are we going to have to try to get Riff Raff to take this down?” But the guy was like, “No it’s awesome. My brother is a huge Riff Raff fan—we got in touch with him, and now we’re going to get to meet him!”

We deal with so many orphan films, and if we were conservative about this we wouldn’t be able to put anything up, and nothing would be seen. We proceed in that we’re doing this for an educational purpose and want things to be seen. If people want their stuff to be seen, they’ll partner with us, and, if not, there are places you can go to get your home movies digitized.

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