August 12, 2012
Filmmaker Dennis M. Lynch Exposes the Illusory Fence "Protecting" Our BorderBy Robert Small
Dennis Lynch told me there were many revelations during the fourteen months he spent making They Come to America, his riveting documentary about illegal immigration. "I was shocked about how many Americans are furious but too afraid to speak on camera," he said in July when I interviewed him by phone. "I was surprised to learn people can't land jobs [in Miami] because they don't speak Spanish." The list of revelations is long, but the biggest: "At any given moment, we could have another 9/11."
In the film, Arizona ranchers tell Lynch about the exhausted foreigners crossing over from Mexico they've rescued from hunger, heat, and thirst along the scarcely patrolled border. And about finding the occasional prayer rug or Quran dropped by what Homeland Security classifies as OTMs, "other than Mexicans," whose fates are unknown.
Some revelations aren't on film, like stories from border control agents who didn't want to be identified. Lynch said they're still coming:
In the most eye-opening and harrowing scene in the film, Lynch is warned by ranchers and local lawmen in Tucson to stay away from a section of road 500 yards from a cartel compound. They tell him guys wearing balaclavas and carrying machine guns move across the border at will. The ranchers had taken it upon themselves to install a video surveillance system. Sure enough, Lynch takes his crew out there to investigate, and the monitors capture the night-vision glow of human figures rapidly moving toward them.
Other scenes are more telling than surprising, like the reactions of Florida Governor Rick Scott and his 2010 challenger when Lynch tried to interview them. "Was I shocked to see politicians run?" Lynch asked. "No, because I don't think much of them."
He said he had no deep thoughts about immigration before making this film, and his interest in government was limited to one forgotten vote cast about twenty years ago. His inspiration came from a song. The film's title is a spin on the chorus to Neil Diamond's hit "America," which was playing on the radio as he drove past a man in Southampton, NY, who was holding an American flag and a sign that said "Deport Illegals." On the opposite side of the street, day laborers gather every morning, waiting for work, and most mornings, unemployed roofer Tom Wedell stands in protest across from them. Lynch had his camera with him, and his decision to stop and interview Wedell began a tour of discovery that ended at the border.
He did his best to give voice to both people living here illegally and the Americans most affected by lax or poorly enforced immigration laws, but a Hollywood friend, after seeing the result, said, "It's a righty film...Hollywood will never think it's 'fair and balanced.'" In the cinematic arts, if you're not biased left, you're on the right. So did Lynch's discoveries turn him into a right-wing activist? In fact, he said, "[t]his film has turned me into a better American."
Lynch was the quintessential American even before embarking on his film career. Athletic and adventurous, he's a self-made man who struck out at his chance for a baseball career, then scored big starting a computer repair and recycling business at age 22. It became so successful that Ernst and Young selected him as Long Island's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He was in Manhattan on the morning of 9/11, one of the people running from debris when the towers came down. A few years later, he decided to pursue his dream of making films and launched his digital video production company, TV360Media.
He'd already completed one full-length film before starting this one. King of the Hamptons got off to a promising start at the Hamptons and Long Island international film festivals in 2010 and 2011. A lighthearted film about mid-life crisis, Hamptons gave Lynch the opportunity to hobnob with entertainment royalty including Kim Cattrall, Chevy Chase, and Alec Baldwin. Convinced that he had a winner, he decided to put off the marketing of that film after interviewing Tom Wedell on the corner that day.
Unfortunately, They Come to America didn't enjoy such a promising start. Its March premiere at an East Hampton theatre received favorable local press, but then a donor to the theatre threatened to pull all of her funding and encourage other donors to do the same if the film was shown there again. Close to thirty festivals rejected his application. "The worst was the TriBeCa Film Festival," he said. "They passed on my film but accepted a documentary about why men shave their testicles!"
"My film puts the open-borders crowd into cardiac arrest," Lynch explains. "Lobbyists, advocates, lawyers and Hollywood want you to buy the image of a poor, starving illegal immigrant. Problem is, it's no longer the case. Many illegals are driving SUVs and using iPhones. They're paying $20K to cross the border. And many of them are not here for the shining light on the hill."
After a video-on-demand deal fell through, Lynch decided it was either stick the film on a shelf or release the DVD independently through his website. He cut a compelling trailer and put clips on YouTube, and soon requests started coming in for radio and television interviews. These spurred sales, and many groups have hosted screenings at which Lynch has appeared to take questions.
Three weeks after our interview, back-to-back screenings in Maryland drew an audience of nearly 500. It also drew protesters from CASA of Maryland and ANSWER, an "anti-imperialist" communist front group. A protester sitting in the audience called Lynch a racist.
"If you complain about the illegalities going on in this country pertaining to this specific topic," he had said during our interview, "you are tagged 100% as a racist." He said that's why the people interviewed on Miami streets in his film -- white, black, Hispanic -- while clearly troubled, decline to give their opinion on camera.
"We have a big population of illegals where I live," Lynch said. "Their kids go to school with my kids. I coach them all in football and baseball. ... I've told my kids the same thing I tell everybody; my problem isn't with the illegals, it's with our government."
Lynch has sympathy for people who get exploited and raped by human traffickers as they come over in search of the mythical jobs Americans supposedly won't do. But he reserves his greatest sympathy for Americans like Wedell, who can't find work because the people they compete with for jobs are willing to live packed like sardines in rented houses so they can accept less money.
One of the film's harshest critics was a participant. New York immigration attorney William Streppone recently blogged he was disappointed that the final film focuses on the costs and problems of illegal immigration and doesn't address "humane" solutions like comprehensive immigration reform. He accuses Lynch of attempting "to fool people into thinking" it's unbiased and says that ultimately the film is unfair.
"It's unfair to Streppone's wallet," Lynch laughed, when I asked if he'd like the opportunity to respond:
Lynch said he doesn't blame anybody for making a living, and Streppone's living is to be a lawyer. He does have a major problem, however, with lobbyists like the woman for the Virginia Coalition for Latino Organizations, who also participates.
Lynch insists, "Lobbyists and their politician pals are the source of our illegal immigration problem." He's been motivated to break his non-voting streak this November. "I will be voting against Obama," he told me. "If he wins, twenty million people get amnesty. If he wins, I fear another 9/11."
Lynch will be showing his film at the Republican National Convention. To see a trailer and clips of his media interviews, purchase his film on DVD, or find locations throughout the country where the film is screening, visit theycometoamerica.com.
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