Social Justice Shorts

How One Filmmaker Approached a Social Justice Issue

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American Nightmare won the award for Best Social Justice Short Film at the Festival on October 19, 2019.
American Nightmare was written and directed by Jesus Nebot and produced by Jesus and his wife Susana Santiago. You can watch the film at their website: americannightmarefilm.com.

I did a virtual interview of Jesus on February 16, 2020, and wanted to share his insights:

Was there one incident that ignited your desire to produce American Nightmare?

Yes. We were watching the news on June 23rd about the family separations at the border due to the implementation of the zero-tolerance policy. I also heard a national poll that stated that the majority of Republicans supported this policy that I considered inhumane, immoral and illegal. I was surprised by that, since the majority of republicans happen to be Christian and support family values. I felt I had to do something to help them understand the perspective of the victims of this infamous policy while at the same time depict how unfairly they are criminalized

What were the first steps in producing your short.

I wrote a script with the idea I had and the awareness that I only had one day to shoot it and therefore should be under 10 pages.

When did you write the script?

I wrote the script a couple of days after my wife Susana Santiago encouraged me to do something about the separation of children from their asylum seeking parents at the border at the end of June 2018. We shot the project on July 16th so it all happened pretty fast because I was not going to be available afterwards. Susana agreed to star in the film and co-produce it.

Did you recruit your talent?

Susana did a submission requesting talent with the help of a casting director friend so we could find the right mother and daughter for the film. She and I decided to play the cops and I wrote the script with that in mind.

Did you do any test videos?

We had one casting session, but we did not do test videos of any kind. I just took my DP to the location I had in mind to show him what I wanted to do so we could create the shot list

You've been an actor for many years, what did that bring to your recent filmmaking activities?

Actually, I made a feature film called NO TURNING BACK https://youtu.be/6F7dE-eV5bM about undocumented immigration several years ago. It was released by Lifetime TV on cable and by Universal on video. It was also sold to numerous countries around the world. I was involved as writer, director, producer and I also played the lead character. The film won a lot of accolades, but left me initially with a lot of debt . I was forced to leave filmmaking behind to recover financially. Ever since, I have focused on doing smaller social justice projects  such as  American Nightmare. The purpose is to use my storytelling skills to support my human rights advocacy.

Do you have any words of encouragement to new filmmakers?

I have never gone to film school or accessed any grants or other forms of traditional financing and yet I have been able to produce successful projects as a writer, director, producer and actor. What matters the most is finding a story that you can really connect with and truly feel that it is a story that must be told. You should then use your passion for this project to recruit a team of people that believe in your vision and will help you execute it in a professional manner.

If the story is socially relevant and thought-provoking, you will have a better chance to get support from people that share your perspective. Special emphasis must be put in writing a truly compelling script and having a person on board to do all the necessary pre production.

Shooting dates cost a lot of money so you need to be well prepared to make the most out of them. As I did with American Nightmare, one shooting date could be enough to make a great short film.

If your film is related to social justice, it helps a lot to create a site that people can visit to get educated about your cause and know how to take action. After playing at numerous film festivals and winning several awards, our film is now going viral on facebook where it has already been viewed over 2 million times. It is a wonderful creative way to help awaken our common humanity.