Tia & Marco
By Annie J. Howell
The year is 2025. All U.S. citizens in good health are now required to serve one year in a government job, placed by lottery in to schools, soup kitchens, highways and borders.
Tia Moran is six months pregnant and finishing her year as a patrol officer on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her service has taken its toll: After months of grueling work, she no longer empathizes with those who make it over the wall. “English-only” laws have prohibited government employees from learning or speaking Spanish, and far fewer Mexicans speak English, contributing to an intensified environment on the border. Tia is simply relieved that she can now return to New York City where she and her boyfriend will prepare for the birth of their son.
On her last night in Arizona, Tia discovers Mexican teen Marco — cunning, charming, and speaking perfect English — hiding in her house. Waiting overnight for Border Patrol to pick him up, she is forced to consider her loyalties to closed systems as well as her own humanity. At once a cautionary tale and a story of hope, Tia and Marco investigates the complexities of immigration through one personal interaction.
In September 2008, I was participating in IFP in New York, a weeklong conference of sorts for independent filmmakers, when I met with Richard Saiz of ITVS. He told me about how he conceived of the FUTURESTATES; he was interested in stories set in the future, but not in the Kubrick sense — really, more in the spirit of The Twilight Zone. You know, social issues gone awry: weird scenarios, not necessarily weird alien creatures. Okay, I can handle that, I thought — never ever having taken on any writing outside of small character-driven dramas … or dramedies (really hate that word). So, I set out to write a border story.
I’ve been interested in the Mexican-American border and all of its complexities, mostly because I’m a native Arizonan. The issue is everywhere if you grow up there. Most of the service workforce is Mexican, and whether or not one is legal is simply never discussed. I have memories of my mom talking about kids in her third-grade class in our town, and how their parents were coping, having come to the U.S. to seek a better life but finding significant obstacles here. The churches in our town would take in people no matter their circumstance, and I remember being impressed by this compassion — sheltering and educating people who for the most part simply wanted to work, educate their children, and find a way out of poverty.
As I grew older, and eventually relocated to New York City, the issue changed according to the region, but some of the elements remained the same. Upon seeing the excellent documentary Farmingville (2004, Carlos Sandoval, Catherine Tambini), I was amazed at how similar some of the problems were; fears on Long Island resembled fears in Arizona: people feeling migrant day laborers on Long Island or construction workers in Arizona might threaten their safety, take a job, or simply change the visual landscape of their lives. In Arizona, the issue had escalated over the years to the point where a rogue sheriff was making illegal raids on local businesses and encouraging profiling in traffic stops, looking for “illegals.”
What I wanted to do with this piece was to get at the way in which small interactions can hold tremendous power toward understanding, even in the most helpless scenarios. In some debates, the human face has been erased from the immigration issue. If we can work toward legislation that is both compassionate toward the human realities and also addresses the economic dependence our society has developed on this workforce — as opposed to throwing a fence around the problem to assuage abstract fears — we’ll be heading in the right direction.
— Annie J. Howell, Director
We edited Tia and Marco in a tidy suite on the campus of Ohio University, where I am currently an assistant professor of film. It was mid-October and the leaves were drifting steadily down. OU is a pristine campus, complete with requisite architecture and herds of undergrads in flip-flops, despite the weather. Our minds, however, were in Arizona, a climate significantly hotter and a landscape as foreign as the moon. Greg Sirota and I were grappling with exactly how to craft this relationship between an obstinate, determined border guard and her mysterious captive, Marco — a charismatic, irreverent “illegal” from the south.
Okay, so how to do this? We wanted our audience to believe that a connection between these two parties was possible, and more importantly, believable. Why would a border guard even communicate with the kid who broke in to her house? On the night before she’s to leave for her home in New York City to have a baby? Isn’t it easier to just ignore this kid and get through waiting for him to be picked up?
In the script, I had the moment of connection coming early, when Tia feels guilty enough to feed Marco. They had a whole conversation about her name, Tia, which means “aunt” in Spanish — and Marco teases her that she really must know Spanish if she knows this word. (In the futuristic premise of the film, government employees are prohibited from speaking Spanish.) In the edit, this was far too much too soon. She’d just locked him up a few hours ago! We found the solution in cutting most of the dialogue in the scene. Instead, simply, Marco asks this border guard to tell him her name. This was supposed to introduce the entire scene. Instead, that’s it. No more talking. Eating was enough.
On the set, it was actor Enrique Ochoa’s idea for the line: “So, what’s your name?” At the time, I thought, no — I’ll never use that — too earnest. But let’s do it anyway. It ended up being perfect, on its own, as the point of the entire scene. It was just enough to crack open the door so that Tia later actually considers for a wild moment that she can risk it all for this stranger. I’m grateful we were able to shorten this key scene to make this story point possible, and grateful to Enrique for coming up with that line.
— Annie J. Howell, Director
Annie J. Howell
Howell has written and directed short films that have played internationally on the film festival circuit, including at SXSW, Newport, Full Frame, and Clermont-Ferrand. Her work has aired on the Sundance Channel, PBS, and the Independent Film Channel. Her screenwriting work, in development with New York production companies such as Locomotive Films (producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Joshua Astrachan), has been the recipient of a 2005 Nantucket Screenwriters’s Colony fellowship and the Grand Prize Award at IFP’s 2008 Independent Film Week. Her web series, sparks-series.com, will appear soon on Sundancechannel.com, where she also blogs about film and storytelling. Annie earned an MFA at NYU’s Graduate Program in Film and is currently Assistant Professor of Film at Ohio University. She has also taught at Duke University and at The New School, where she was the founding director of the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies.
Dane C. Reiley
Reiley has built a resume as a freelance producer that includes commercial work for clients such as FlipCam and Capcom, award-winning short films, and a variety of long form productions for Comedy Central, PBS, and Warner Bros among others. Recently, Dane co-founded LOOSEWORLD, a production company that combines innovative production services with a conceptual, creative community project designed to cultivate the arts through creation and appreciation. The company is currently producing a wide range of work, from music videos for artists like WALE and Devendra Banhart, to series development for Comedy Central on their recent pilot, The Fuzz, with creative partner Waverly Films. While studying for his BFA at the renowned Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at New York University, Dane produced the film Clubscene, which received the esteemed honor of being named a finalist for a Wassermann, an award once bestowed on such fellow NYU alumni as Spike Lee, Ang Lee, and Nancy Savoca. Additionally, Dane works seasonally as an events producer for the Tribeca Film Festival coordinating filmmaker and industry events and after-parties.
Susan Kelechi Watson — “Tia”
Watson hails from Brooklyn, NY, but currently finds her time split between the East and West coasts for appearances on hit crime dramas such as NCIS, Law & Order, and Numb3rs. Susan would like to thank Annie Howell for giving her such a complex and satisfying character, as well as her family for their constant support.
Enrique Ochoa — “Marco”
A native of Mesa, Arizona, Enrique Ochoa has been acting since the age of seven. For the past nine years, he’s worked with Dani’s Agency in Tempe to build his reel while attending school full time. Enrique is very close with his family in Mexico and visits them regularly. Enrique plans to pursue acting professionally into adulthood. He wishes to thank his parents and siblings for their support.