SPLIT AT THE ROOT – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

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When the 45th U.S. President took office in January of 2017, his “America First” agenda went almost immediately and disastrously into effect. Not only were thousands of people from targeted Muslim countries denied entry into the country, some in route and others already at American airports, but refugees from Latin America were denied their right to petition for asylum, put in detention camps, and most cruel of all, separated from their children.

It’s rather breathtaking that a country of immigrants, including ancestors of the former president, should close the iron door on so many people who, forced by dire circumstances in their own countries that the United States frequently had a hand in creating, took the enormous risk of leaving behind everything they knew because of their belief in the American Dream. Faced instead with an American nightmare, these traumatized individuals saw the possibility of a happy ending dim as weeks turned into months in ICE detention camps that were, in fact, as cold as ice to the detainees who had their warm clothes confiscated and were forced to sleep on the floor.

Appalled by the family separations, New York-based social worker Julie Schwietert Collazo and her husband Francisco—himself an immigrant—decided to take action by raising money to pay the bond of one woman so that she could be released and reunited with her children. Their GoFundMe effort far exceeded expectations, and what was intended to help just one family turned into Immigrant Families Together (IFT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reuniting and supporting immigrant families separated at the U.S./Mexico border.

Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton uses talking-head interviews, file footage of ICE arrests, reenactments, and animation to tell the story of two of the thousands of families caught in the legal labyrinth and physical dangers immigrants have faced for more than 100 years of failed immigration policy in the United States. By bringing us close to these families, we learn why they decided to leave (one woman was shot in front of her teenage son) and how they have coped with the pain of separation and uncertainty of their situation. Goldstein Knowlton also interviews several volunteers—invariably women—who work to find ways to mitigate the harm that seemed the point of the former administration’s policies and give families the resources and support they need to live in the United States.

The work IFT does makes it almost possible to believe that good could triumph over evil. But as various title cards inform us, families are still living apart as the bureaucratic wheels move glacially and records that could help effect reunions were never kept. And, as Julie points out, even though an administration changes, the same people working to stop immigrants from entering the country are still at work. Split at the Root, named for those who have one foot in their home country, one in the United States, and a real home in neither, sheds needed light on a complex story opportunistic politicians prefer to dumb down to avoid making substantive, positive changes to U.S. immigration policy. This film is vital viewing for anyone with a heart.

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Marilyn Ferdinand (Archived Contributor)

Marilyn Ferdinand is the founder of the review and commentary site Ferdy on Films (2005-2018) and the fundraising Love of Films: The Film Preservation Blogathon. She currently writes for Cine-File and has written on film and film preservation for Humanities magazine, Fandor, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She lives in the Chicago area.