By Courteney Jacob ’19
Shamauri Brown-Young ’20 hopes his film ultimately breaks down barriers.
While on a border immersion trip in spring of 2017, the Saint Mary’s University student videoed the compelling stories of students who must cross the international border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on a daily basis.
Brown-Young, a computer science major and communications minor, said he had no idea what to expect when he and 11 other Saint Mary’s students experienced a closer look at the divided border region.
By debuting his film “Conversations Near the Border” Feb. 11 during this year’s Frozen River Film Festival, the Chicago native was able to share what he learned with a broader audience.
The film documents nine Cathedral High School students in El Paso, some of whom spend several hours every day getting to and from school, Brown-Young said.
These students wake up two to three hours earlier than most other students because they never know how long it will take for them each day to pass through customs along the border, he explained.
Brown-Young hopes that the film can help teach everyone an important lesson. “A lot of people think they know what’s happening in that part of the country,” he said. “People only tend to believe what they hear on the news, and that doesn’t tell the whole story. You only ever hear about the violence. But you meet a lot of wonderful people too.”
Although he’s been interested filmmaking since he was younger, creating and editing the film for the festival was a new experience for Brown-Young.
Getting enough material for the film was never an issue, he said, because people were interested in telling their stories. The difficult portion came in editing down all the material into the 20-minute film.
Brown-Young said he received much help and encouragement from his adviser Anne Conway as well as Dr. Erin Mae Clark, assistant professor of English at Saint Mary’s and vice chair of the Frozen River Film Festival Board of Directors.
“The work that Shamauri was doing in El Paso and his contemplation of its significance to his education here as part of a Lasallian family was a natural fit for a festival that strives to tell stories that connect people across cultures, borders, and families,” Dr. Clark said.
Initially, he never intended to make his film into a larger project. But Conway and Dr. Clark encouraged him to take the project a step farther. They also helped him pick out the most important segments and follow an outline.
“The beauty of this project was learning alongside Shamauri,” Conway said. “Together we explored the art of gathering stories and realizing the sense of agency one can discover in weaving them into one piece. I look forward to what happens next not only in Shamauri’s journey, but also in the journey of the students inspired by his efforts.”
The Frozen River Film Festival audience provided Brown-Young with positive feedback, and he believes they left with new insight into the people living on the border. “You could hear the reactions from people in the crowd,” he said.
Although Brown-Young is still in the early portion of his Saint Mary’s career, the university has already helped him to grow. “This school has pushed and encouraged me to do things I normally wouldn’t do,” he said.