Child labor is the subject of the film “The Harvest”

A still photo from the film "The Harvest."
Photo courtesy of Media Voices for Children

A still photo from the film "The Harvest."

The documentary film “The Harvest (La cosecha)” will be screened at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Saturday, Nov. 24, at 4 pm. It is a beautifully filmed movie about a painful subject, child farm labor.

Award-winning photographer and filmmaker U. Roberto Romano directed the film. He will be at the screening and will be available for questions at the film’s conclusion. The screening is a fundraiser for the Vineyard based nonprofit, Media Voices for Children.

“In some countries, children work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week,” the narrator informs us. “In some countries children 12 and under pick crops. The United States of America is one of those countries.” The film exposes the plight of the 400,000 children who work as migrant laborers on America’s farms.

From the producers of the Oscar-nominated film “War/Dance” and executive producer Eva Longoria, “The Harvest” tells the stories of three adolescents who work the fields. The film follows their families who travel thousands of miles across the U.S. to find work, to pick the crops that feed America.

The film moves from southern Texas to northern Michigan, Ohio, and northern Florida. The children sometimes sleep in trucks and cars. Schooling is sporadic. Along the way, they face backbreaking labor sometimes in 100-plus degree heat and physical hazards from pesticides. More than 300,000 farmworkers suffer pesticide poisoning each year. Long work days, sometimes in excess of 12 hours, and 7 day work weeks for little pay are the norm — when there is work. One child works 12 hour days and gets $64 a week picking onions.

For each of the three, family is the primary focus. Contributing to help the family rise out of poverty is their goal. A mother tells her kids, “I don’t want you guys to be like me.” They see how hard their parents work. Their pay is little, but they do what they can. They do not shirk from work, but they know that the ultimate route out of the binding grip of their plight is through education.

One hopes to become a lawyer so she can help others in her situation. She is elated by the promise of being able to go back to the community where she went to elementary school to attend high school with her old classmates, only to have that dream evaporate when her father becomes ill and they have to hit the road again.

Another is happy to work so that his sisters can stay in school where they can learn and eat every day and where they have air-conditioning to escape the heat.

They are intelligent and well-spoken children who understand that the cycle of migrant labor is difficult, but not impossible, to break free from. They know that the odds stacked against them are huge. According to the film, children of migrants drop out of school at four times the national rate.

This is not a film that basks in the stench of squalor, but one that reveals the hopes and possibilities of people who are struggling to improve their situations in a primitive system that they may not be able to break out of without some help.

Scenes from “The Harvest” have been presented to the U.S. Department of Labor and members of Congress. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard has presented scenes from the film to lawmakers in support of her introduction of the CARE Act, which would raise the minimum age of child farmworkers from 12 to 14. The film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary as well as the Outstanding Filmmaker Award at the San Antonio Film Festival.

Island-based Media Voices for Children is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness of the needs of poor children in the U.S. and around the world, through documentary film production, public advocacy, and direct action. The organization runs an online community for children’s rights, mediavoices.org, and supports the education of former child laborers through its Kenyan Schoolhouse program, kenyanschoolhouse.org, now in its 10th year.

Media Voices for Children in partnership with the M.V. Film Society presents a showing of the film Saturday, Nov. 24 at 4 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $10; $7 M.V. Film Society members. Director U. Roberto Romano will be present for a Q&A following the film. The screening is a benefit for Media Voices for Children.