Personal reflections on four documentaries:
The San Patricios (1996)
Dan Overpeck as Capt.
During the U.S. intervention in Mexico of 1846-1847, for motives that are still being debated by historians, nearly 500 soldiers, including some from other European countries, deserted the U.S. Army and joined the St. Patrick’s Battalion within the Mexican army. They fought in all the major battles of the two year war. Toward the end of the conflict, scores were captured by the U.S. Army, court martialed, and 50 were sentenced to be hanged in three separate locations in Mexico City. To this day an annual ceremony is held each year on Sept. 12 to commemorate the “San Patricios” at the Plaza San Jacinto in Mexico City where a stone plaque bears their names.
For nearly 150 years, U.S. military authorities suppressed the story of the San Patricios. Then, in 1989, Robert Ryal Miller published his extensive research on the battalion in his book, Shamrock and Sword. In 1993, Miller agreed to serve as the principal historical adviser for my documentary, The San Patricios. He made many helpful suggestions for the script and sat for an interview at his Berkeley, California home. Another valuable resource has been Peter Stevens, author of The Rogue’s March: John Riley and the San Patricios. Stevens probes deeply into the Irish background of the battalion and questions the findings of the U. S. courts martial which
concluded that the men deserted and joined the Mexican army simply because they were drunk and disorderly.
San Patricio Commemoration.
In the next two years our production crew traveled to Texas for US-Mexican war re-enactments; to Mexico for further research, interviews and to film the annual San Patricio commemoration in Mexico City; and to Ireland to retrace the journey of the San Patricios, particularly to Clifden, Galway, birthplace of John Riley, founder and commander of the battalion. Several months were spent in post production with the valuable advice of film maker Hector Galan, the editing skills of Joanne Hershfield and an original music score by Steve Yeaman. The documentary was premiered at the Cork International Film Festival in 1996 and was also shown on Irish television (RTE). In September, 1996, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Mexican War, President Ernesto Zedillo presided over a special ceremony commemorating the San Patricios. The documentary was shown the same day on Mexico’s Televised network. Since then it was broadcast on a dozen PBS stations. It has garnered several awards and continues to be used as an educational resource in schools across the United States, Canada and Ireland.
A teacher’s guide and bibliography can be downloaded from this website. Educators have discovered that the story of the San Patricios serves as a valuable window for understanding the U.S-Mexican War, as well as 19th century Nativism, Manifest Destiny, the Great Hunger (the so called Irish Potato Famine) and the mass emigration from Ireland that took place in its wake.
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Stepan Chemical (1992)
The decade of the 1990’s saw the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Presidents George Bush, Sr., and Bill Clinton, promised that NAFTA would be an economic boon for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Moreover, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico predicted that NAFTA would curtail emigration from Mexico. Actually, just the opposite has taken place. The importation of corn and other grains has depressed the price of those products and driven more than 15 million Mexican farmers and their families off the land. Yes, NAFTA has produced economic growth, but mostly for economic elites, not for poor and working class people.
One reason why U.S. factories have run away to Mexico is to escape strict environmental regulations. Stepan Chemical is one example. This film tells the story of how a poor Mexican community in Matamoros, Mexico joined forces with border activists in the U.S. to hold the Chicago-based plant responsible for polluting the neighborhood of Privada Uniones. Through grassroots organization, political lobbying and drawing support from The AFL-CIO, Stepan was eventually forced to clean up its plant. For more information on Stepan as well as environmental and labor conditions along the border, contact the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras .
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River of Broken Promises (1996)
Mark Day, music composer
Steve Yeaman, and narrator Martin Sheen
The New River is an offshoot from the Colorado River, which runs into Mexico and doubles back through Calexico, California, following a path northward to Salton Sea. The New River was created by accident when engineers dynamited the Colorado River to irrigate the Imperial Valley in Southern California. Environmentalists consider it the most polluted waterway in North America. It absorbs industrial waste from maquiladoras (U.S. assembly plants) as well as waste runoff from farms in the Imperial Valley. Five U.S. presidents and their counterparts in Mexico have vowed to clean up this river for the past fifty years. Yet all their promises have been broken.
Cameraman Wayne Reese and
students explore the New River.
In the course of shooting this documentary, we filmed the testimony of an official from the Centers for Disease Control who minimized the health risks of the river, despite warnings about malaria and other diseases from local physicians. Shortly thereafter, our camera caught up with people catching catfish from the river to supplement their family’s diets. We also discovered that a group of high school students in El Centro knew more about the New River than the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. This documentary, sponsored by the Environmental Health Coalition of San Diego, was instrumental in forcing the U.S. and Mexican governments to take measures to clean up the New River.
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Sex Trafficking: Looking for the Indicators (2006)
On the set of "Sex Trafficking."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking ranks as the second largest organized crime in the United States. Several non-profit groups in the U.S. seek to help victims of human trafficking. One of them is the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, (B.S.C.C.) based in National City, Calif. It is extremely difficulty for law enforcement to distinguish the victims of human trafficking from professionals who engage in voluntary prostitution. Day Productions worked closely with he B.S.C.C. and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Dept. in developing three common scenarios where officers encounter sex trafficking: a traffic stop involving young women forced into prostitution; a domestic violence call revealing an underage girl pressured into prostitution; and a brothel scene showing several young women and a boy, also coerced into the sex trade.
Local actors recruited from high schools, colleges and acting classes joined forces with sheriff’s deputies to create a realistic portrayal of scenes most people hear about, but rarely witness. The local broadcast of this video led to a 2006 Emmy Award from the Pacific Southwest Chapter of the
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
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