Jeremy Ray Valdez in “Dreamer.” (Courtesy Undocumented Productions)

[VIDEO] “Dreamer” film depicts the emotional impact of living undocumented

Salvadoran-American writer and director Jesse Salmeron noticed the devastation of DREAMers when the DREAM Act didn’t pass in the winter of 2010, and he thought how better to raise awareness than to make a film about the subject.

“I started writing in January, 2011,” says Salmeron, who also started a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than the goal of $50,000 in 30 days. “It was the DREAMer community themselves that made it successful. I’d say the majority of supporters were DREAMers, and they pushed it on social media.”

The film, “Dreamer,” was finally completed last month when it also sold out at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif. Today, it begins its East Coast tour at Harvard University; on April 10, it will screen at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. — the day of the immigration reform rally — and then at the Hispanicize conference in Miami the same day.

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“I’m really concerned about putting a human face on this, and talking about the human aspect of the story, and how it impacts these individuals,” says Salmeron. “I think that the Dream Act is an easier thing to pass right now than comprehensive immigration reform. I think it’s hard to deny that these kids are just as American as anybody else…I think it’s time to get something done.”

He says he came to the U.S. at age 3, just like the main character in “Dreamer,” and like him, he also did well in college, but that’s where the similarity ends. Salmeron says he was lucky because his family was granted protected status during the Salvadorian Civil War, which allowed him to become a permanent resident.

“[The film is] more inspired by other DREAMers I know,” says the full-time writer and director from Houston, Texas.

Salmeron says when he saw actor Jeremy Ray Valdez play Benjamin Bratt’s gay friend in the 2009 film, “La Mission,” he thought, “That’s the guy” to play the lead in “Dreamer.”

“He looks all-Latino and all-American at the same time,” says Salmeron about the actor, who ended up winning the 2010 Imagen Award for Best Supporting Actor for that role in “La Mission.”

Valdez has played in numerous television and film roles in the last decade, including the film “Mission Park,” also screening at Hispanicize. However, he says when he read the script Salmeron gave him, he not only wanted to star in it, but help produce it.

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“The story that it told and the passion he had,” says Valdez about what sold him to play Joe Rodriguez in “Dreamer.” “And it’s so relevant right now in this country. It affects not only brown people, but many different cultures and people from around the world.”

Born in Santa Fe, NM, of Spanish and Native American ancestry, Valdez says he’s never had to go through what the character he played does, but there is one scene in the film which made him feel it.

“The scene where he has a mental breakdown towards the end of the film definitely has a reaction on people,” says Valdez. “The way Jesse edited it, and the use of silence in the scene is just so powerful…It’s hard for me to watch it, too — feelings of panic, fear, foreboding, and helplessness…all the things that Joe goes through.”

Salmeron says he can’t help but think how his life would be completely different if he didn’t get the fortune of being documented in this country.

“I wouldn’t be who I am now — a writer and director with one film under my belt,” he says. “I’m always impressed and taken aback by the resiliency of DREAMers. They keep going and keep moving. I don’t know if I’d have that kind of strength.”

He says he hopes, as people watch the film, that they get an insight to how much the limbo DREAMers are in affects them.

“[Also,] how much suffering is caused and how human and American they are,” says Salmeron. “How much they love this country, and how they only want to have the opportunity to give back and contribute. I think one of the saddest things is there is so much wasted talent and potential. It’s just being wasted, and that’s so much potential that America could tap into and really use.”

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