San Antonio director’s short film about deportation receives praise, Oscar-eligible

San Antonio documentary film director César Martinez Barba, 27, is receiving accolades for tackling the tough subject of deportation.

Martinez Barba’s 20-minute short film, “Dial Home,” captures the loneliness and reality of deportation — people feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. It highlights some men and women who spent their lives in the United States and then were deported to Mexico.

“We’re not from here. We don’t speak Spanish. We’re not from over there because we’re Mexicans. There are a lot of people who are just caught in between. It’s not because we chose to,” said one of the women in the documentary.

Often once they get to Tijuana, the only jobs they’re suited for are at call centers.

“People are working a job where they’re speaking in English on the phone every day with people in the country that they used to live in, yet they are in Mexico trying to rebuild their lives,” Martinez Barba said.

“When you’re at work, it feels like you’re still working in the U.S., but as soon as you leave those call center doors, it’s different,” said a man in the documentary.

“Dial Home” has screened at many film festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it won “Best Documentary Short Film,” making it Oscar-eligible.

“Winning the award was a surprise because the film was made with a lot of care and love but very few economic resources, and it was a really small team,” Martinez Barba said.

Then, in September, the New Yorker picked up the film and showed the documentary for free online.

Martinez Barba is honored but said he values one thing the most: “That this story is available to more people, and there’s a greater visibility to this subject matter. Stories about what happens to people after they’re deported, I think, are far and few between.”

Martinez Barba credits his childhood in San Antonio, specifically his mentors at the SAY Sí organization, for inspiring his love of filmmaking. SAY Sí provides diverse populations with creative development, arts and cultural experiences, and training opportunities.

“I’m Mexican American, and I’m interested in telling Mexican American stories, and for me, this is another example of how complicated that identity can be. I think because I was able to grow up in a city that really was deeply Mexican American, deeply Tejano, deeply Hispanic in so many ways, it was really important for me to honor that experience and the place I call home,” Martinez Barba said.

Martinez Barba said future projects already in the works would continue championing Mexican American stories.

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