THE GRADUATES/LOS GRADUADOS
Q&A with Quiet Pictures Producers Katia Maguire & Pamela Aguilar
The Graduates/Los Graduados premieres on PBS in two parts, “Girls,” and “Boys,” on Monday, October 28 and Monday, November 4 at 10 PM (check local listings) and great reviews are already coming in: “All six of these stories are microcosms of thousands like them all across the country,” writes Edutopia, “and one reason why The Graduates is such an important film to be shown in all schools and communities.” The San Diego Union Tribune calls it “a smart, beautifully shot documentary”. The documentary series is a continuation of the work that Quiet Pictures, founded by documentary filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, has done since 2007. Past Quiet Pictures projects have focused on stories of racial discrimination, immigration, and freedom of the press, with a common thread of representing struggles to achieve dignity and justice. LPB caught up with producersPamela Aguilar and Katia Maguire to talk about the making of this 2-part bilingual series. The series was Executive Produced by Bernardo Ruiz, edited by Carla Gutierrez and photographed by Antonio Cisneros and Mai Iskander.
How are you personally connected to the material and how did you become a part of this documentary?
PA: This project, more than any other I’ve worked on connected with me personally because as an immigrant from El Salvador and a graduate of a public school system in this country, I recognized many of the struggles our Latino youth are faced with today, in an effort to earn a high school diploma. To that, I also see in each one of the students featured –and the many more that we met throughout the production of the series– the inherent resilience and drive to succeed, that was instilled in me by my parents, growing up.
I joined ‘The Graduates’ team without hesitation after a phone call from our Executive Producer, Bernardo Ruiz, inviting me to participate. His vision for a nationally televised series on PBS about Latino youth education produced by a mostly Latino/na staff and crew was exciting. I immediately knew this was going to be a timely and important project and I’m so happy to have been on the team that made it happen.
KM:My mother moved from Ecuador to the United States in search of better educational opportunities for herself and for her future family. Like so many young women, my sister and I are the first women in our families to graduate from college. Throughout the filmmaking process, there would be many times where what we saw in the field reflected our own experiences. Studies have shown how much Latino families care about education. Time and time again, we saw this to be true.
The film provides a face to the staggering statistics of the drop-out rate. As filmmakers, did you face any challenges in the selection of the specific characters featured in the film when faced with such a broad scope?
PA: From the very beginning, we were aware of the broad scope of the project and as a team we had long discussions about how to best approach it. Early on in our research, certain issues like poverty, student immigration status, gang violence, and teen pregnancy, quickly rose to the forefront as causes that led Latino youth to struggle in school. With these issues as a roadmap we set out to connect with educators and community activists who are on the ground everyday working to ensure young people are earning their high school diplomas. We ultimately met many Latino/na students across the country who despite the odds are determined to succeed. Deciding whom to feature was not easy, but in every instance each of the young people selected had a compelling story that was emblematic of the many voices we heard and they were graciously willing to share it with us.
When filming, did you discover anything that surprised you in regards to education in the United States?
PA: Prior to ‘The Graduates’, I’d worked on two documentary films about education, in 2004, ‘Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise’, for PBS and in 2005, ‘High Stakes Testing’, for CNN Presents, so I was familiar with our education system. Nearly ten years later, during the filming of ‘The Graduates’, I was surprised to learn that many of the challenges in regards to education in the US have not changed and in some cases are tougher. What was not surprising and very encouraging is that there are incredible unsung foot soldiers sprinkled throughout our country fighting to ensure all of our children are not only being educated, but inspired to follow their dreams.
How aware do you feel the American population is regarding the drop-out crisis?
KM: It’s tough to generalize, but I would say that many folks are unaware that the dropout rate for Latino students is actually decreasing, which is the good news. However this doesn’t change the urgency of ensuring that Latino students graduate from high school and become engaged citizens in their communities. Latinos are the youngest and largest minority group in the United States. Quite simply, our future lies in their hands.
As part of the American Graduate Initiative, what effect do you think THE GRADUATES will have on Latino drop-outs in the United States today?
KM: I hope that, through the stories of the six young people we feature, viewers will recognize the teachers, families, and students in their own communities who have been working hard to on these issues. There’s so much great work going on around the country! As part of the American Graduate Initiative, viewers who watch our program have the opportunity to connect to the other stories and resources compiled by the other filmmaking teams who produced work for this initiative. Collectively, these stories and resources can be amplified and can reach many more communities.
By highlighting six students, each with their own unique stories, the film demonstrates that there not one solution to his problem. Are there any additional solutions that you would like to mention that were not featured in the film?
KM: This is a tough question, as there were a lot of different stories and solutions that we unfortunately could not include in the series. On the whole, I would say that providing support networks for students—whether they are at school or through other organizations in the community makes a big difference. The students we met seemed to be most successful when they had the opportunity to become involved in their school and their communities, and to have a say in their own futures.
In your opinion, what is the underlying social commentary behind the increasing dropout rate in Latino Youth, and how does THE GRADUATES shed light on this pressing issue?
KM: The Latino dropout rate is actually decreasing. According to the PEW Hispanic Center, the Hispanic high school dropout rate in 2012 is less than half of what it was in 2000, and it is falling more quickly than any other racial or ethnic group. That’s good news for sure. But we’re by no means in the clear. Latinos are the largest and youngest minority group in the United States and they make up one-fourth of all public school students. As Dr. Pedro Noguera says in ‘The Graduates’, we will see a Latino future. If Latino students are not educated, and if they do not become engaged citizens in their schools, families, and communities, where does that leave us? This should not only be a concern for the Latino community, but for all Americans who will look to this emerging group of young people to support us in our future.
Why is PBS the best place for this type of programming? What do you hope viewers will take away from the documentary?
KM: Public media has a responsibility to explore issues in the public interest, and it’s at its best when it does so. I also believe in PBS’ mission in providing a platform for independent voices and thus, under-reported stories. All of the filmmakers who worked on this project have dedicated a big part of their careers to public media and believe in its mission. It was great to work with a team that shares these values.
In the series we wanted to give students the opportunity to tell their own stories and experiences. We felt a great responsibility in sharing these stories with the public, as some students hadn’t even shared these details with their fellow classmates. We are happy that viewers will have the opportunity to meet these young people and hear their inspiring stories firsthand.
Can you tell us about the next project you’re working on?
PA: My next project is taking a look at mental health within communities of color in the US, highlighting issues such as depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder. The project aims to shine a light on the shame and stigma mental health problems bring and call for the awareness and medical care, they require.
KM: Here at Quiet Pictures we’re gearing up on our next project that expands upon some of the themes and issues explored in Bernardo Ruiz’s “Reportero” (POV, 2013). I’m also continuing work on my documentary film, ‘Jessica Gonzales vs. The United States of America’. It’s about a brave and determined Latina and Native American domestic violence survivor who takes a case about police non-enforcement of restraining orders to the United States Supreme Court.