Award-winning filmmaker John Valdez is known for his documentaries about the Latino experience in America. His latest film, “American Exile,” tells the stories of Latino military veterans who have been deported, and it premieres here on PBS tonight. We spoke with John Valdez about filmmaking and “American Exile.”
Valdez said this film portrays the story of two brothers who fought in Vietnam who came home suffering from PTSD. Fifty years later they receive notices of deportation for seemingly unknown reasons. These brothers talk to other veterans to figure out why this happened and realize there are thousands of other veterans who are deported upon completion of their time in the military.
“They’re determined to try and do something not only to try and stop the deportations but to bring those who have been deported and their families back home,” Valdez said.
One of the characters is disabled due to severe PTSD, when they returned there had been no term to describe this syndrome. After this they ha committed misdemeanors but nothing worse.
“If U.S citizens were to be deported because of misdemeanors, about a third of the American population would be kicked out of the country,” Valdez said.
Valdez said he learned about this story from a previous screening in Colorado where two Vietnam veterans who were being deported shared their story with him. This documentary project took seven years to complete, largely because of fundraising but also to see the characters change over time in the documentary format.
“That is one of the beautiful things that documentary film can do that other forms just can’t really capture,” Valdez said.