SEEKING ASYLUM – Review by Liz Braun

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Seeking Asylum follows one mother’s journey from Honduras to America in search of a better life for her children.

The feature documentary from director Rae Ceretto centres on a woman named Kensy who spent a month walking with three of her children to escape certain death in Honduras and find asylum in the U.S.

After a harrowing journey, during which she was robbed and menaced, she arrived on American soil but was told there were too many migrants from Honduras and Guatemala.

She and her kids were shipped by bus to an encampment in Tijuana, where they were to wait until their case was heard in the U.S.

They lived for some months in a tent inside a church. The children could not go outside because Tijuana is so dangerous.

Kensy was eventually brought to San Diego for a hearing but was denied asylum. Then she got a break: it was March, 2020, and the pandemic began. Borders were closed.

She was allowed to go to Los Angeles, albeit wearing an ankle bracelet. She and her family were able to begin a new life — sort of.

It’s a life riven by uncertainty and hardship but with help from Jewish Family Service of San Diego, there is hope.

Seeking Asylum is a devastating look at the plight of refugees trying to enter the U.S.

The subject matter is frankly riveting, which is fortunate, because for this feature debut filmmaker Ceretto seems to have more material than she knows what to do with.

When the focus is on Kensy, it all works. The filmmaker’s portrait of an indomitable woman is terrific and she gives a human face to the migrant journey, but whenever that focus goes elsewhere, the film doesn’t work as well.

The film includes brief appearances from immigration experts, judges, professors and politicians, each of them with something to say that could have been developed further.

A rapid-fire history of recent developments since the 1980 Refugee Act tries to show how good intentions got derailed, but it’s a bit confusing.

Respected immigration judge Dana Marks fills in some background on the Refugee Act, noting that it has been disappointing over the years — you could make a separate movie about Dana Marks — but images of presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Trump et al don’t really explain why it’s been disappointing.

Only Trump’s ranting about the country being full and his legacy of children torn from their parents is clear; the rest isn’t explained in depth. Why are only 2% of hopefuls granted asylum?

President Biden’s election brings Kensy’s family hope for asylum, but as of 2022, Biden hasn’t made any changes either. These parts of the movie feel rushed and somehow lacking. There’s a wealth of information a viewer would like to have, but it’s not here.

Maybe the issue is the film’s short running time — it’s only an hour long.

Seeking Asylum is worthwhile, if a bit scrambled. You’ll be left hoping Ceretto will continue to investigate the subject matter in her next movie.

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.