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100 Words Film Festival: Optics Views Immigration Through Human Lens

by Nicole Fisher

August 30, 2015

From the first shot of a wind chime twisting in the breeze to a sudden shift to stark archival footage at the end, Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Lind Midgett's Optics tackles the thorny issue of immigration by suggesting far more than it shows. The casual immediacy of home movies is conveyed by overly saturated color footage of children at play outside a modest home. This nostalgic yet oddly ominous imagery is juxtaposed with a sound bite by Dianne Stewart, a "legal" South African émigré whose family was caught in the arbitrary brutality of US immigration policy.

Stewart, who sounds "white" yet "foreign," remains unseen. The children, who are darker skinned, are caught in close-up, shy and smiling. When Stewart recounts how US officials came knocking at her door in the dead of night to cart her away and place her children in foster homes, our unblinking gaze is drawn to an abandoned swing, a rider-less hobby horse and a return to the spiraling wind chime. The house is empty, and the children are gone.

"We have to look to history," and see how similarly cruel policies affected families, says Stewart as the color drains from the frame. We fade up on black and white stills of children interned at Nazi concentration camps. Viewed across seven decades, the children's expressions remain difficult to read. Are they frightened? Stoic? Accusing? Similarly, Stewart's final questions go unanswered: "Does that (policy) sound human to you? Does that sound moral?"

Midgett's film may be a polemic, but it's a deft and -- until the chilling coda -- a remarkably subtle one. The filmmaker's genius lies in shifting the "optics" of a controversial issue to our shared humanity. 


Running Time: 1:57

Directed by: Linda Midgett

Director of Photography: Steve Saxon

Editor: Lesley Kubistal

Music: Charles Parker Gaddis


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Tags: immigration, 100 Words Film Festival, Charlotte, concentration camps, Lind Midgett, emigre, South Africa

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