In 2017, the North Bay wildfires ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties in northern California’s wine country. While the devastation from the fires was widely covered by the media in the immediate aftermath, a year later, the people hidden in the shadows of the vineyards continued to face challenges in a world where asking for help poses a terrible risk.
“All That Remains,” a film by Eva Rendle, follows the vulnerable population of undocumented farm workers in wine country dealing with the aftermath of the fires and the issues of immigration, labor and housing they brought to the surface. The documentary screens Saturday, Feb. 15, and Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (see box for details).
The documentary received a student Academy Award in the fall and Rendle said it’s been amazing to see it resonate beyond California.
Rendle started reporting the story six weeks into her first semester at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and the work evolved over the next year and a half. What eventually became her master’s thesis is an intimate portrait of the plight of undocumented workers in the U.S.
“From the get-go I was interested in how this was impacting farmers in wine country, just because I knew a large percentage didn’t have immigration status,” Rendle said in a recent phone interview. “I was talking to social workers and therapists and teachers, and I became interested in the psychological impact of this, especially on the immigrant community already in a vulnerable place.”
She started hearing about increased behavioral problems in children of undocumented workers who were seeing the pressures of living without legal status exacerbated by the fires.
“This fear was trickling down to kids. That led me back to how these fires acted as triggers that brought up all the trauma that people living without legal status live with every day,” she said, adding things like using a bank, going to the doctor or even shopping at the grocery store can be a huge challenge for these families.
And in the aftermath of a natural disaster, it's nearly impossible to find the resources to get back on your feet after losing a house or a job because the farm you worked on burned.
The fear has been growing in recent years under a crackdown on immigration under the Trump administration, and Rendle said one of the challenges of making the film was getting people without legal status to talk with her.
“I had a lot of people agree to be in the film and then drop out,” she said. “I was constantly having to pivot and find new people. It’s a scary time to be on camera and a lot to ask of someone without legal status.”
Her main character, Consuelo, has legal status, but lived undocumented in the United States for many years. The film follows her efforts to get resources for people in the area without papers.
One woman she was helping, who was kept anonymous because she didn’t have legal status, was one of many struggling to find adequate housing because of a fear that seeking help will get them sent out of the country.
Rendle said the woman, who was living with her kids in an apartment riddled with mold and cockroaches, was willing to ask for help to find a better living situation for her kids out of desperation.
“I think she had reached a breaking point. She had really young kids and they were living in this apartment complex that was unlivable,” Rendle said. “She reached a point where she just wanted to protect her kids. She just didn’t have any other options, so she was willing to stick her neck out there for the sake of her children.”
Rendle hopes the film helps viewers reflect on the advantages that people with legal status have, but more specifically, the populations who are the most vulnerable in the face of climate change and increasing natural disasters.
“Some people have said they heard about the fires, but never would have thought about how it impacted these farm workers,” she said. “There’s always going to be a most vulnerable population as these disasters continue to happen.”
She said the film resonates beyond California, as the bigger issue at play is a need for immigration reform on a national scale.
“Even though it’s a local story, I don’t think the issues in wine country are specific to wine country. It’s really a broken immigration system and that’s what in the end we have to look at and have to fix.”