Post submitted by Daniel Dangaran, HRC Family Project Intern
Last night, an audience of 65 focused on the story of Alon and Sandro, a bi-national same-sex couple; Alon comes from Israel, Sandro from Canada. Our hearts were stretched as we were granted a window into their lives after they made the difficult choice to leave the United States before the final extension of Sandro’s H1B Visa expired.
We came together at the HRC building for the first public viewing of (In)Voluntary Departure, directed by Wes Culwell, but I’m not sure if those gathered knew how immediately and how intensely the film would envelop us into the lives of these two individuals.
Alon and Sandro are described as “quintessential dreamers.” They are architects who built their house together, built a clothing store together (a “pop and pop,” if you will), and built their version of the American dream together. The audience listens and learns as we hear them describe the construction and deconstruction of their dreams.
Throughout the film, footage from Alon and Sandro’s final 30 days in the country is interspersed with the voices of their friends and family. We learn about the couple from their loved ones, and see the world through their eyes.
I drew a sharp intake of breath as the documentary turned from a lighthearted moment of reminiscence with two of Alon and Sandro’s friends to an abrupt moment of silence, accompanied by a black screen with white text explaining the stark reality of the situation. We were linked empathically to this couple in an indescribable way. The silence was our way of experiencing a sense of communal sorrow for what had happened – for what our country’s laws forced Alon and Sandro to do.
The film ends with a line from Sandro which reveals the couple’s strength and resiliency.
“At the end of the day, we’ll be able to build a home again. It’s going to take us some time, but we’ll be able to do it again.”
Following the film we were pushed to ponder the potential reach for this film as we heard from Culwell at the podium and Alon and Sandro via Skype. Culwell’s dream was for this film to create change, and it already has: it has been entered into the official congressional record. “My dream is accomplished,” he said, with a glisten in his eye.
Sandro and Alon’s response was quite different, and an important reminder of the human experience that is too often ignored when grappling with the black and white words of the law. Sandro says his dream is now “to put this story aside, because we’ve carried it for so long. Committing it to this film has taken a huge weight off my shoulders.” Wistfully, Alon turned to him before looking directly into the camera and adding, with finality, “Agreed.”
Learn more about HRC’s advocacy for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform which keeps LGBT families together at hrc.org/immigration.