“How does an undocumented documentary filmmaker document themselves?” That’s a question posed by Miko Revereza, who doesn’t conceal his status as an undocumented alien; it’s right there in the official bio he provided to the Rotterdam Film Festival, where his short Disintegration 93—96 played last year: “Moving from Manila, he has lived illegally in the United States for many years.” His father left the Philippines in 1990, when Miko was two; he and his mother came over in 1993. Revereza has been here ever since, though he’s thinking about leaving next year.
Over the years, Revereza’s work has included short films, music videos and gallery installations. He has no undergraduate degree but skipped straight to an in-progress MFA at Bard. When he applied, “A lot of spaces were talking about their institution as a place of sanctuary. I was posing the question, who gets access to the sanctuary in the first place? How many people who are undocumented have access to college, since there’s no federal financial aid that is accessible to them? How is that even possible?”
Disintegration is a dizzying, rapid-fire five-minute monologue about his increasingly complicated perception of his father that Revereza delivers over an assemblage of family home movies. “I did this for a fellowship with Visual Communications, an Asian American film nonprofit in LA,” he says. “They had very strict time limits for the fellows to produce their films, like five minutes. I had to talk really fast to get all of this information out. There wasn’t much room to poetically ruminate on things or give it space.” The results are impressively overwhelming, but Revereza finds rewatching the film “still jarring.”
His debut feature, No Data Plan (currently in rough cut) is in part a reaction to that film. Over the years, Revereza has regularly kept a video diary. No Data Plan came out of two train journeys taken from LA to NYC, one last year, one this; the latter, in June, climaxed with an unnerving encounter with law enforcement, when Revereza’s train was stopped and the potential question of documentation arose. A mass of train trip footage that was inchoate had found its structure and unfortunate climax. It begins as a travelogue in which Revereza’s story is rendered only as onscreen subtitles. “How does this sort of undocumented subjective voice come into the film? Is it even heard? How do you hide and give information?” More voices eventually enter the soundtrack in a film that captures the particular blend of boredom and hypnosis that’s part of Amtrak cross-country journeys. Family history, politics and pure, sometimes dazzling visual experimentation build to that disquieting final encounter.
While editing and submitting to festivals, Revereza wants “to make some really formal camera exercises that are just about studying light and camera movement, not about representing this undocumented subjectivity.” As for moving: “I don’t know how that’ll change my work because so much of this work has to do with being Filipino American. This journey ended in a way where I came to the realization that I don’t want to be a fugitive here my whole life. There’s a whole world out there, and the United States is just one country.” — VR