Hot Docs 2016 Interview: Min Sook Lee Talks “Migrant Dreams”

Director Min Sook Lee - Migrant_Dreams

As I have already mentioned in my review of “Migrant Dreams”, it is always important to have a freedom of speech when it comes to writing. That will certainly allow the reader to make up his own decision. Decision that will allow you to look into a sensitive subject and admit that it is really happening. Migrant Dreams is a documentary film that gives you an exclusive look into the way citizens and non-citizens are being treated in Canada. It is painful to see how the labor worker has to struggle on a daily basis in such a well-established country. But that is not what hurts most – it’s when you realize that the country you live in forgets with whose help it became what it is right now – one of the best countries in the World.

Min Sook Lee had an excellent approach in her film that conveyed a message, which me as a film critic won’t be able to deliver. It is something you have to see it yourself. However, it’s the interview that I had over the phone with the filmmaker which I am proud to present you, that I strongly believe you must read to understand better the reasons why Min Sook Lee has embarked herself on such journey.

MOVIEMOVESME: This is not your first film about immigration and its issues. What is your goal when you make films that touch such a sensitive subject?

Min Sook Lee: As a filmmaker I think I have an opportunity to use it as a mirror to reflect back who we are, to reshape our society and use it as a bridge to build dialog between diverse communities. I believe Migrant Dreams tries to do many of those things and make people be aware of the realities under reported in our society. I’m a working class immigrant who came to Canada from South Korea in 1973 when I was 4 years old. We established through hard work a new identity in Canada. What happened to me and my family is seen as a typical immigrant success story but at the same time it’s important to look at these stories and ask ourselves what are the more substantial realities behind the one single headliner in those successful immigrants; what were the sacrifices, losses and the challenges. Some of the challenges were losing the sense of our cultural identity. Part of the work I do as a documentary filmmaker is to speak against that. But I think what’s also important to look at is Canada’s story of immigration in many ways is a myth. There’s a myth that Canada is a nation of immigrants where doors are wide open and through ambition, hard work and sacrifice they can succeed. In fact Canada’s racial identity is very much coded; the desired applicants for Canadian citizenship is very often racialized. We need to understand the logic, the rationale of how the migrant labor programs operate today. For me it’s a necessary conversation we need to have in order for us to move forward.

MOVIEMOVESME: Ranging from corruption to abysmal living conditions, what do you have to say about the shocking things you had to see while shooting the documentary?

Min Sook Lee: I think this documentary brings forward realities that many people would prefer not to see about this country. I think it’s easier to point your fingers across oceans, across borders, at others far from home and to critique other practices but if you look in your own backyard it can be very uncomfortable. What this documentary does do is make clear that  Canada’s migrant labor programs have created a two tier system of labor rights and human rights; rights for citizens and rights for non-citizens. There are demarcated zones of employment. The system that binds the migrant to the employer is ripe for exploitation. The minimum wage jobs, 3D jobs: difficult, dangerous and dirty jobs, Canadians don’t want to do these jobs. Those migrants who do it are given sub-standard accommodation like the one you saw in the film. No way is it the kind of accommodation human beings should have; it looks like a refugee camp more than anything. Workers are not given proper protection when working with pesticides and other chemical sprays. Most of the times workers cannot raise their voice or they risk losing their jobs and subsequent deportation.

MOVIEMOVESME: What are your thoughts on the disappointing side of “Migrant Dreams”?

Min Sook Lee: I think there are many workers who came into the country as part of the temporary foreign worker programs. There’s many of them in operation in Canada. These migrants have restrictions applied to them unlike the ones with professional degrees. Canada has a certain relationship with Ireland, so for example low wage workers from Ireland are given more opportunities to get citizenship compared to a low wage worker from, say, Colombia. This is all part to racialized construction of who the desired and wanted citizens are. I think the one reality workers need to be aware of is that it may not be easy, as they too have bought in the myth of Canada being a counry of liberal human rights and equality for all. But in fact the reality is a lot different. Many of the Indonesian workers I interacted with told me there was very little difference between how they were being treated here than back home in Indonesia. People from the Gulf region have seen the film and people from labor organizers were shocked and they felt they had seen a side of Canada that is not often reported upon.

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