CNN Obtains Rights to Air Documentary on Life of Illegal Immigrant

Earlier this month, NewsBusters reported that CNN has been exploring a shift away from breaking news and commentary to longer-form documentaries. Our suspicion was that most, if not all, of the political-oriented documentaries would promote liberal issue ideas instead of conservative perspectives.

Almost on cue, CNN has announced that it has acquired the rights to air a feature-length film next year chronicling the experiences of an immigrant who is in this country illegally.

Entitled “Documented,” the movie chronicles the journey of Jose Antonio Vargas to America from the Philippines as a 12-year-old child and his travels through this country as a supposedly neutral reporter for the Washington Post and then the Huffington Post before becoming an amnesty proponent.

“The film is in honor of 11 million undocumented immigrants -- many of us Americans in all but paper,” said Vargas, who wrote and directed the production. “It is a privilege to be associated with CNN Films in bringing ‘Documented’ to television.”

While the movie will make its TV premiere on CNN next spring, it was first shown at the Asian Film Festival in San Diego last week, then aired during this year's International Documentary Film Festival, which begins on Wednesday in Amsterdam, and will then be released for theatrical distribution in the U.S.

According to a news release, Vargas has dedicated the movie “to parents everywhere who dream of better futures for their children.”

“Immigration, to me, is not a political issue, it’s not a Latino or Asian issue -- it’s an American story,” he added.

The release also states:

After attending San Francisco State University, he pursued a print journalism career -- landing jobs at newspapers in San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., for the Post -- all the while, managing to keep his true citizenship status a secret.

In 2008, Vargas was awarded a Pulitzer Prize as part of the team of Washington Post journalists who reported on the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

The newsman began working on the documentary shortly before 'outing' himself as illegal in a ground-breaking New York Times Magazine essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”

That article led to a blur of appearances on cable news shows and a chance to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, He then traveled across America, telling his story on behalf of the illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

In an article for the utsandiego.com website, Karla Peterson states that being the face of any debate was never part of the immigrant's plan.

“I wasn’t ready to see myself on screen. It has been torture watching myself,” Vargas said. However, “I spent so much of my adult life being scared and feeling ashamed that once it all became real, it almost felt like liberation.”

As he connected with immigrants through the similarities of their journeys, particularly those who -- like Vargas -- came to the United States as children, his personal reflections compelled him to reconnect with his mother, whom he had not seen in 20 years since moving in with his grandparents in Mountain View, Calif.

Vargas also said:

My goal and my hope is that the film can spark conversations and greater understanding and empathy. How does it feel to pledge allegiance to a flag that doesn’t belong to you?

What would you have done if you found out when you were 16 that you weren’t supposed to be here? I don’t have the papers yet, but this is my country, that is my flag, and this is my story.”

“We have followed Jose’s story closely since 2011 and are very pleased we will be able to offer U.S. viewers a window into the experiences of recent immigrants through his story,” said Amy Entelis, senior vice president for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide. “Jose also reports this story from a journalist’s point of view – which makes it a great fit for distribution on our network.”

Executive producers of “Documented” include technology entrepreneur Sean Parker, publicist/consultant Matthew Hiltzik and Scott Budnick, one of the executive producers of “The Hangover” films.

Judging from the information provided about the documentary and its producer, the film is very likely to promote a liberal view urging “undocumented” immigrants to remain in the country regardless of their status. If that's the case, when can we expect to see a feature-length film about people who entered the U.S. legally?

Randy Hall
Randy Hall