Local filmmaker tackles immigration debate through lens of forensic science

El Paso filmmaker Ramon Villa. (KFOX14)

An undocumented immigrant makes the dangerous trek across the desert.

She makes it into the U.S., but is hopelessly lost. She calls for help. But it never arrives.

Years later, her skeletal remains are found by a team of forensic scientists.

And that's how it starts: it's a movie called "Juana Doe," the work of local filmmaker Ramon Villa.

“In the last ten years, the way migration trails have been showing themselves is through the collection of bones,” said Villa.

The premise of the movie centers around the actual work being done by forensic anthropologists along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Along the border fence, many counties rely on the medical examiner to declare an immigrants death," Villa said. "Unfortunately, some counties are underfunded and can only bury immigrants in trash bags inside mass graves.”

He goes on to say, “I’m fascinated by forensic anthropology, I’m fascinated by immigration, I’m fascinated by how people treat the dead.”

The script focuses on a forensic anthropologist named Malena, who is part of a team working to identify the migrant remains and return them to their grieving families.

“What happens to those beings once they’re gone and who comes to help if there’s an angel for example," Villa said.

At one point, Malena awakens a supernatural ability to communicate with the dead. And it's her job to help cross the lost souls into the next plane of existence.

“These spirits that keep popping up, in and out of her life, because they don’t have closure," Villa said. "Because their bones aren’t buried correctly or because their bones haven’t had any kind of sacrament.”

Villa said he wants to steer clear of the political debate over immigration policy. He says the film is about giving a voice to the dead.

“That’s the thing about my movie. I don’t want to make it a one-sided perspective," he said. "I want to know what these individuals in these underfunded communities are having to deal with. Especially when it comes to someone’s death.”

Villa, who also teaches film production at UTEP, has been making independent cinema for more than 20 years. He has shot a "visual storyboard" as part of a campaign to raise money for the project. Villa is hoping to raise $12,000 to shoot the movie on 16mm film.

“It’s a complex story and I wish I had 12 hours of a Netflix series to tell it, which I do have written," Villa said. "But I can only afford what I’m trying to campaign for right now.”

To take part in the fundraising campaign, click here.

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