There’s a strange hypocrisy to the American Dream. Citizens of the United States of America have called their country the greatest in the world, touting its various freedoms (perceived or law-based), all while going to other countries to spread their influence. This has, of course, ruffled the feathers of countries where the culture possesses a different view, but, there were instances in times of war where the presence of Americans was received well. At least, in the moment. In one portion of filmmaker Miko Revereza’s (No Data Plan) latest work, Nowhere Near, screening during New York Film Festival 2023, Revereza comments how when the U.S. Army came to the Philippines during World War II, even after being told that there were no Japanese soldiers in a town, they bombed it anyway. Of course, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the statement or whatever intelligence that the U.S. military possessed at the time, but it does speak a great deal to the way that Americans view themselves versus others. This carries over into other elements of the American experience, especially for those seeking to immigrate, with the American Dream dangled in front of them and yanked away over and over. How great a nation is the U.S. when it seeks to add immigrants to its body only to place them into a system that rejects them over and again, seemingly by design? This is what makes the experimental documentary Nowhere Near a difficult watch as it transitions from a trip down memory lane for Revereza’s family into a scathing statement on the immigration system.
The entirety of Nowhere Near is a collection of footage with narration that appears to date back to 2017 in a sequence near the beginning when Revereza tells us he’s walking Hollywood Blvd. as he tests out a new piece of equipment. At first, this seems like a general setup, a way to identify set and scene, if you will, until he states that there’s no way to tell if the area will look the same by the time the film is completed. This adds a somberness to what follows, as though Revereza is already resigned to the currents of time and the way in which all things fade, shift, and change. In his own way, Revereza channels Greek philosopher Heraclitus who famously stated, “The only constant in life is change;” however, rather than a sense of calm and acceptance, there’s a tinge of ire. Through a collection of visual images — some moving, some still, some overlapped — and captured conversations, we come to understand Revereza’s persistent rage as the decision to come to the U.S. forever impact his family in ways that imply a false promise whose collateral damage is determinant.
Without going through the whole film, there’s a sense that, post-World War II, Revereza’s grandparents come to the country seeking to immigrate and it still may not yet be finalized. This means that Revereza’s parents, who also came to this country, are still in the process of immigrating and that Revereza himself is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) participant. As we learn about the difficulty that each generation seems to have with finalizing their status — issues of cost for application fees, a well-respected lawyer who, for reasons unknown, never finished the job he was paid for, and several other things that feel like death by a thousand cuts — we also learn that Revereza’s grandmother is planning a visit home as there may be outstanding debts owed to her. The research for the trip sheds a light on just how much her memory of the place she once knew differs from what it is now, a physical form of the artistic approach that Nowhere Near utilizes as it overlaps time and place to create a sense of disembodiment. This is, of course, all by design and wonderfully conveys the same sense of being stripped of self that comes from being rejected by a place that told you *you* were welcomed.
Of course, the U.S. has an incredible history of inviting and disenfranchising immigrants to help with the western expansion, the railroad, and many of the cities in the western part of the country. They have a tendency to name whole areas after their Mexican, French, Spanish, and Indigenous roots but often replacing the actual names with colonized versions, citing them as celebrations of local importance and legacy out of one side of their mouths, while bad-talking any person of any of that lineage for not being a “proper” (read: white European) American. Thus, when we learn that Revereza’s DACA application costs $400, there’s a part of the brain that misfires because the reality of individuals who may be part of DACA is that they may not have the foundational tools to afford that fee *and* exist. It’s the same way that folks pull out stereotypes regarding Black Americans as lazy, poor, and uneducated, all while ignoring things like red-lining, the destruction of whole Black cities, Jim Crow laws, and, oh yeah, that whole slavery thing upon which many of the policing, voting, and regulatory laws were designed to enforce. This may seem like an out-of-pocket non-sequitur, but when you look at the ways laws are written, they are not often in the favor of immigrants, whether “going about it the right way” or not. It’s a rigged system that steals time, energy, money, and memory from those who try to pursue it.
Though experimental in execution, where we don’t always know the significance of what we’re seeing or the way in which images and sound collide to create a sensation. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end to Nowhere Near as Revereza follows the story of his family backward, including going back to where his family tree was metaphorically planted. Doing so enables both he and his family, as well as the audience, to see how time and distance changes all things, almost to an unrecognizable point; yet, there are often markers to distinguish that something of note occurred, even if it’s just that a life was lived there. This is what gives Revereza’s documentary resonance outside of his story to an audience who may not see things or have the lived experiences that he has. It’s what makes the film as a whole difficult to embrace fully as there are scars everywhere, each one a different aspect of a live lived in waiting. Each one waiting for a chance to be explored, studied, and understood.
Screening during New York Film Festival 2023.
For more information, head to the official NYFF 2023 Nowhere Near webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.