Steve Taylor-Bryant walked a mile in another man's shoes, on a train, as he watched the documentary No Data Plan, showing next week at Open City Documentary Festival 2019...
A voiceless narrator rehashes details about his mother’s affair as he crosses the country by train. “Mama has two phone numbers. We do not talk about immigration on her Obama phone. For that we use the other number with no data plan.” The linear train ride moving from LA to New York diverges into unruly directions of consciousness. A multiplicity of voices shares thoughts, dreams and histories evoking images far away from the enclosed spaces of this present-day trains interior. While capturing these landscapes and interiors through his lens, the moving images evidently illustrate an undocumented subjectivity, a site of precarious movement, migration and fugitivism in America.
As is mentioned in the above synopsis this film by Miko Revereza is not a standard documentary film, it is a snapshot of life told through the imagery of a train journey. That alone doesn’t sound enticing I know, but the more I watched the frames of blurred landscapes, or the back of someone’s seat, or the coldness of the windows and doors the more I was sucked into the life of Revereza and the more I found I cared. The film itself is told through subtitled statements and recollections and with the gentle bumping of the train always in the background the film is quite calming, and I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, when was I going to get the true immigrant experience? But the thing is I was already getting it. I was getting it long before the fifty-eight-minute mark when I finally hear Miko Revereza talk for himself, I was getting it all along. His experience is an everyday life on a journey many have taken, that just happens to have an underlying dread attached to it due to the colour of his skin and his country of origin. At the fifty-eight-minute mark Miko sort of turns the camera on himself as you go through his experience at one station when Border Control enter the train looking for their next detainee.
The fact, then, when Border Control can ask the question “are you an American Citizen?” and you are frightened to answer because both the truth and a lie can end up with your incarceration, is a very humbling experience for a perfectly legal member of society to watch. To get into the headspace of the fear that the filmmaker is experiencing, not just in that moment but in his everyday life, even just for the brief moments I am with him is incredible for me, to have a snapshot of a moment of another person’s life implanted over my own safe existence is unnerving and frightening, and I hope I am a more understanding and compassionate man for it.
Sometimes when you are watching a documentary, as I am now, from a position of middle aged male white privilege, it is often difficult to understand what you are seeing, hard to be empathetic with those whose lives you know nothing about, and I am well aware that this is a failing on my part. I cannot help my skin colour or gender, I cannot change my upbringing or how I was educated, all I can do is constantly try to gain knowledge of how our world, our society, works for and against its differing citizens. I have tried my best over the years, whilst covering film festivals and documentary celebrations, to make my selections outside of my own comfort zone and to try and put myself in the shoes of those that are mistreated and misrepresented, promising only to attempt to understand that life is not always the same for everybody. Harsh and in your face films, I find, have zero impact on me, I don’t know why, I just don’t seem to be conditioned to accept shock and awe as a way to educate, but No Data Plan from Miko Revereza is the opposite of shock and awe, it is truly art that infects you slowly and gets under your skin, and eventually helps you to see more clearly.