On one side, Mexico. On the other, the United States. And in a limbo composed of both places and neither of them completely, three families live and face the fear every day that the lack of papers for one of their members will end up separating them. The uncertainty threatens the tranquility of the protagonists of the documentary Home is Somewhere Else, the first animated feature film by Jorge Villalobos and Carlos Hagerman, released this month in commercial theaters. The first had worked in animation, the second in documentary, and since 2011, they have sought a way to combine both elements and put them “at the service of relevant stories” through Brinca, the production company they founded together.
Those stories are about Jasmine, an 11-year-old girl who fears that her parents will be expelled from the US; the story of sisters Evelyn and Elizabeth, who have just graduated from high school and are separated by the border; and the story of José Eduardo, “El Deportee,” a young adult who grew up in Utah but lacks a passport. They all switch easily between languages and lend their own voice to the illustrated representations of their characters. The third character, moreover, introduces each narrative until the final monologue, which directly addresses the viewer.
Each protagonist experiences a different migratory situation, but they all share the experience of uprooting and the assertion of the right to belong. “If you don’t have documentation, you don’t have the right to speak or act. It changes your identity,” reflects one of the characters in the film. Everything boils down to that. None of them stands out for an excess of drama or heroism either: the strength lies in the ordinariness of their stories. “It’s a characteristic of the work that we like,” they explain. “We believe that the protagonists of migration stories have been victimized too much, both in fiction and in documentary. Sometimes you come across super-dramatic stories, but you lose the representativeness, which we feel makes the discourse more human.”
Politics appears and disappears in a more or less subtle way in each story, but the epicenter of all of them is the fear of family separation. “There’s something about the family nucleus that attracts me a lot because stories told from the family can be seen and felt anywhere,” confesses Hagerman, whose previous projects, such as ‘Those Who Remain’ (2008), have already revolved around this theme. “Families are organisms made up of several members that function under different laws that attract and expel us, but there’s always the illusion of staying together.”
The film premiered in 2022 at the Annecy Festival, the most important animation festival in the world, and became the first Mexican documentary to compete for the Contrechamp Award. Since then, they have won six international awards.