Edited by: Amber J. Adams, Communications Manager, Firelight Media
We spoke to the Firelight Doc Lab alum and co-director of Farewell Ferris Wheel on his Emmy nomination and the forces that kept his creativity spinning over the years it took to make his film about the role Mexican migrant workers play in the U.S carnival industry.
Firelight Media: Tell us about the day you found out about the Emmy nomination. What was that like?
Miguel Martinez: It was a very emotional moment because of the journey I’ve been on for the past 30 years.
In the early 90’s, I emigrated to the U.S. from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. My parents and I ended up in Charlottesville, Virginia at a time when the Latinx community was so small that everyone knew each other. Going to school was hard because I was stereotyped — not only by the students but also by the teachers. I was often told that I couldn’t reach my dreams because I was a foreigner.
So getting the call from my friend and co-director, Jamie Sisley, that we got nominated for an Emmy was a very emotional and exciting moment. And what made it even more special was that I was in Charlottesville next to my dad when I got the call.
FM: Going to carnivals is such a universal experience. Do you think that it helped to explore immigration issues through this broad industry?
MM: Yes, I believe that it did and continues to do so. The carnival is such a classic American pastime that has been shown on TV and film for decades. So even if you’ve never been to one personally, you know what it is and what it should look like. So that alone helps people relate to the story we are telling because they are already familiar with the setting.
Of course, we are speaking on a broader issue that expands to many other industries. We just chose to tell you what’s happening with the H2-B visa through the lens of the American carnival because it’s the most relatable…and cinematic.
FM: What was the most surprising thing you learned during your Doc Lab fellowship at Firelight?
MM: I knew about Firelight Media in advance of our fellowship, but there’s a difference between having an idea of what it might be to actually “being” a part of it and witnessing firsthand how incredible and supportive the community is.
The knowledge and the resources that Firelight provided is just astonishing. As an artist, you sometimes doubt your work, especially after so many years. Firelight helped Jamie and I get the focus back on what was important and they also provided incredible mentors who helped reinforce and shape the film so it could reach its full potential.
FM: How does it feel to make this film that explores the fraught connection between your country of origin and your current home?
MM: It’s been challenging at times. I have a lot of friends and family, including myself and my parents, that came to this country for a better life.
I know that some people think the process simply involves going to a government building in Mexico, or wherever you’re from, filling out a form and receiving a green card. That’s not the case at all. It’s a long, expensive, and frustrating process without any guarantees.
It’s the same for the guest workers that we documented in Farewell Ferris Wheel. Every year it becomes a more difficult process for them to take the proper steps to come to this country legally. And when they finally pass that last hurdle, they are excited about the opportunity because they’re coming to the U.S. with documentation and under the protection of the law. Then they arrive and find themselves taken advantage of and without a voice — because they chose to come legally. It definitely makes you realize how broken our immigration policies are.
So, for me, it was a challenging film to make as I have dual citizenship. It was hard seeing people from my home country getting mistreated by the laws of my new country.
This conversation was condensed and edited for length and clarity. The News and Documentary Emmys will take place on October 1st in New York City.