Michigan State University

The Weeping Season

Summer 2018 Seed Grant Funding Report
Report submitted by Alexandra Hidalgo

Project Synopsis

When I was a child, my father embodied magic with every step and word. He was a black belt in Karate who could walk on his hands, and he meditated over a glass of water every morning, inviting me to help him predict the future through what I saw in the water with my mind’s eye. Every afternoon we would sit on the floor and imagine a flying carpet under us. We told each other about the world we flew over, one brimming with unicorns and eternal sunsets. He only missed our afternoons together when he was not in Caracas. When I was six years old, he began taking trips to the Gran Sabana, a region of Venezuela located at the heart of the Amazon. On December 18, 1983 he called from the Gran Sabana and promised he’d be home by Christmas Eve. It was the last time I heard his voice. Three days later he vanished without a trace.

The Weeping Season is a first-person feature documentary that tells the story of my father, Miguel Hidalgo’s life and disappearance in the Venezuelan Amazon. Dad was inventor, economist, philosopher, and martial artist whose absence left a gargantuan void in our lives. Three decades later, I, the film’s director/producer, travel through Venezuela, the US, Spain, and Portugal untangling the intricate mystery of his vanishing while trying to overcome the disintegration of my homeland. After decades of a populist, nationalist regime, Venezuela is plagued by food and medicine scarcity and astronomical inflation. As the film unravels the enigma at its heart, it explores how to survive personal and national loss and how to grow into kinder human beings as a result.

Our progress

We have made substantial progress on The Weeping Season:

We created a 13-minute scenes-from-a-work-in-progress trailer for the film for grant seeking and a 2-minute version to create interest in viewers:

2018 Trailer for The Weeping Season from Alexandra Hidalgo on Vimeo.

We completed our interactive, bilingual website of the film.

We have begun a monthly bilingual newsletter that is on its sevenths installment and has over 1,200 subscribers. We have an average open rate of almost 40%, which is high for newsletters, for which anything over 20% is considered high. You can see our archive here.

We have now completed 95% of principal photography for the film. One of the key things we did this summer is that we sent a crew of three Venezuelan filmmakers to the Venezuelan Amazon where my father vanished to conducts interviews and create high-quality images of the area.

We are currently editing a rough draft of the film. Our editor, Cristina Carrasco, and I have been collaborating on this draft and aim to have one down by spring of 2019.

We have hired a Venezuelan composer who is currently working on some key melodies for the score.

We have continued to apply to grants and have received some press for the film, including the MSU Today article and this Computers and Composition Digital Press profile.

Featuring Diversity

Unlike many films about struggling nations, The Weeping Season is not a story told by outsiders looking in but by a crew that features some of the most talented Venezuelan filmmakers working today. Those telling the story are experiencing the disintegration of our homeland from within the country and from the places we have fled to. As with fellow refugee crises, the story of Venezuela is one of families scattered around the globe. The Weeping Season features that situation through my attempt to maintain strong bonds with my family while living in the US and being unable to return home due to having an expired Venezuelan passport that I’ve been unable to renew. My mother, for her part, cannot come to the US without a visa. Although her visas had previously been granted for ten years, the one she received in 2018 is set to expire after one year, meaning that she will have to apply again next year. If they deny it, we may be indefinitely separated.

As our team set out to make the film, it was clear to us that the topic—the loss of a father and the loss of a homeland—is a heavy one. However, it is crucial for anyone living today to come to terms with these issues because understanding the situation will help give them have a more realistic sense of the world in which we live, as well as a more compassionate outlook on the immigrants and refugees around them who are seeking to rebuild their lives. Because the message of the film is one of hope, showing ways in which we can cope with loss and help those we love do the same, we chose to add some lightness to the story. One way to get over our losses is to find joy in something and to allow ourselves to feel that joy without guilt. The film showcases both the pain of tragedy and ways to find happiness again after experiencing loss. The mystery and the characters draw audiences into the story, and through them, viewers engage with difficult topics they might otherwise avoid.

As The Weeping Season invites viewers to lose themselves in its mystery and characters, it portrays a version of Latinxs that is rarely seen in mainstream American media, which often feature Latinxs as criminals or menial labor workers. We rarely see Latinx characters living in the US who are artists, activists, authors, and inventors like the characters in this film. By telling the story of a highly educated Venezuelan family, whose creative and intellectual labor has contributed to the fabric of American culture for decades, the film will help battle harmful stereotypes. By the time the credits roll, audiences will have experienced what it’s like to lose someone and to lose one’s country, as well as how one family overcame those tragedies. Moreover, we hope they will see Latinxs as multifaceted human beings whose contributions to the US are far-reaching and enrich American society. Just like I learned my father’s loss was not an isolated incident but an experience I shared with thousands around the world, audiences will see aspects of their own lives reflected in the film’s characters, helping them better understand the plight of the immigrants and refugees around them.

Bringing Attention to the Venezuelan Crisis and to Refugees Worldwide

From a social and political perspective, the film will help get the word out about a country’s plight that has been largely ignored by the international mainstream media. The situation in Venezuela is hard to report on. For other tragedies unfolding right now like the wars in Syria and Yemen and the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the thousands of casualties and physical destruction are palpable. However, the destruction caused by governmental violence in Venezuela does not involve mass murder and destruction of entire towns. And yet, as National Geographic reports, millions of Venezuelans have fled their homeland in the last two decades, with over one million of them crossing into neighboring Colombia since 2017 alone. This refugee crisis is caused by food and medicine scarcity and by an astronomical crime rate. Caracas was proclaimed the world’s most violent city by the Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, a Mexican research group. Moreover, The Washington Post reported in July that the International Monetary Fund unveiled a prognosis of a possible one million percent inflation in Venezuela by the end of 2018.

One of the problems with providing statistics like the ones above is that the mind can’t process what one million percent inflation means. Besides invoking a sense of alarm, statistics don’t have the same power to touch a person that a story does. The Weeping Season personalizes the situation unfolding in Venezuela today and how it affects those who still live in the country, like my mother and my aunt, and those who have immigrated, like myself. By blending the story of today’s political situation with the mystery of my father’s disappearance, the film also provides audiences with a sense of what Venezuela was like before the current nationalist, populist regime took over.

It is vital for the international community to become familiar with what is happening in Venezuela through a film like mine because things are only getting worse, and we need international pressure to check the actions of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government. The borders continue to close with, as the Miami Herald reports, years of passport scarcity that has left Venezuelans inside their homeland unable to leave and those of us already outside unable to come home. Closed borders, mass starvation, and repression of public opinion are signs that Maduro may be creating a regime in Venezuela reminiscent of those found in North Korea and Myanmar. With citizen and governmental pressure from the international community, however, we can prevent the country from falling into that path, a situation that would not only be detrimental to Venezuela but to neighboring countries. The Weeping Season can help raise awareness and get the international community involved. Moreover, for countries such as Colombia, Panama, and Spain, which are now housing hundreds of thousands of fleeing Venezuelans, the film will provide a deeper understanding of why these new members of their society are there and what they have to offer.

The Weeping Season is a story that goes beyond the situation in Venezuela. It’s also a story about the value of democracy and about our internationally shared duty to be more understanding of the plight of refugees and those who immigrate to escape deplorable situations at home. This is a message that the US desperately needs to hear. As of August 31, 497 of the 2,654 children who were separated from their parents by the Trump Administration after entering the country—some illegally, some seeking asylum—have yet to be reunited with their parents, and the government has provided no clear plan for bringing them together. By personifying the pain of indefinite separation from a parent and portraying the causes of immigration, The Weeping Season is a story that invites audiences to view those who are unlike them, whether or not they legally entered the country, as fellow humans in need of respect and compassion.

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