Dir. Alex Morelli, USA, 2020, 11 min.

Screening virtually and at SECCA on Saturday, May 8 @ 8:30 p.m. Learn more here.

The most powerful scenes in Alex Morelli’s “Becoming” are not at all visual, but rather auditory in nature.

The bulk of the film, which spans just 11 minutes, is narrated by two people over scenes of festivals, protests and citizenship ceremonies. The stories they tell get at the immigrant experience, especially how complex it is.

The first narrator is Morelli’s partner Barbara, an Argentinian immigrant. The other is Morelli, who is quizzing Barbara presumably for a citizenship test. Once, Morelli asks Barbara if she can name a promise she will make upon becoming a US citizen. Barbara answers, “To disavow my loyalty to Argentina.” It is only partially a joke.

Watching his partner go through the citizenship process was the catalyst for Morelli to start recording snippets of their experience the summer leading up to the citizenship ceremony. “During that summer, Barbara was also conducting fieldwork in the Arizona borderlands, participating in water drops and other forms of resistance with humanitarian aid organizations,” he said. “When I went to visit her, I brought my camera along in case these experiences somehow resonated with or complicated her impending oath of citizenship.”

Morelli also includes other events such as the Hispanic League Fiesta in Winston-Salem leading up to the citizenship ceremony. He talks about the difficulties he faced in making the scenes fir cohesively.

“It was only after recording these events that I began to consider the challenge of assembling them into a film,” he said.

Based in Durham, Morelli has made films all over the map in terms of subject matter, from fiction to music videos to conspiracy theories. Though his filmmaking experience is clear in the deliberate shots throughout the work, bouncing between Barbara’s immigrant’s experience and clips from the summer left “Becoming” feeling unfocused at times, especially because of its shorter length.

Still, the success of the film lies in its ability to shed light on the immigrant experience. As the viewer watches Barbara’s experiences, they too, feel the frustration brought upon the grueling process of immigrating to the United States.

“In making this film, I learned to embrace impressionism and feel more comfortable inserting my own voice – and implicating myself in the US’s imperialism,” Morelli said. “I also learned more about Barbara’s experience as an immigrant, how US citizenship registers as a small blip in a process of ‘becoming’ — and is not necessarily even what many immigrants want.”

In the end, although Barbara has chosen to become a citizen, she still doesn’t “feel ready to make that promise” to be loyal to the U.S.

To her, Argentina will always be home.

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