Last fall, after the summer hubbub quieted down, another whirlwind hit the Island community. While the world might have been generally aware of the news, Circuit Film’s original short documentary, “Waiting to Continue: The Venezuelan Asylum Seekers on Martha’s Vineyard” gives us a behind-the-scenes story about the 48 Venezuelan migrants who were flown here from San Antonio, Texas, in September 2022 under false promises of work and housing. Interviews with the Venezuelans and supportive Vineyard residents convey a captivating local account of the migrants’ tumultuous three-day stay before being transferred to Joint Base Cape Cod for assistance from state and federal agencies.
You’ll have an opportunity to see the film and hear a discussion with some of the subjects and two of the three directors, Ollie Becker and Tim Persinko, on July 13 and August 24, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Becker hopes that we come away with a sense of the humanity of the situation — and “Waiting to Continue” expertly accomplishes just that.
Becker and Persinko were both on the ground from the very beginning of the group’s arrival, and gathered captivating footage as events unfolded, as well as insightful interviews with some of the asylum seekers and those on the Island who were intimately involved in the story.
In the beginning, we see the group in front of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where they were initially brought after leaving the airport. You can sense the confusion among the adults and children who had just arrived, only having been told the truth of where they were going just a half-hour before landing, after being deceptively lured onto the plane. People from Community Services, police departments, and the high school AP Spanish students were some of the early people on the scene. We learn how St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Parish came to house the asylum seekers during their stay, and about the flow of volunteers who were constantly helping. Equally as important were a significant number of volunteer lawyers and others, who were assisting with urgent immigration situations, since some of the Venezuelans had their hearings about their cases within days in different parts of the country, and needed to get them postponed.
Throughout, many of the interviewees emphasize the remarkable response from the community. Geary Rolanti from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services shares, “I’ve never seen an outpouring of love like that in my whole life. It was amazing.” Sheriff Bob Ogden says, “We were caught unaware, but not unprepared. The Island is very adept at dealing with emergency situations. The importance that we can count on each other was the turning point that DeSantis just didn’t understand.”
The directors too, make sure to convey why these courageous Venezuelans made the journey to begin with. There are heartbreaking accounts about walking through the forests, mountains, mud, and raging rivers, where many died or were lost. We hear, too, why the group was willing to face such harrowing circumstances, escaping rape, death, kidnapping by the cartels, and persecution by authorities that many saw or experienced. Persinko reiterates what we hear in the film: “These people are doing what any one of us would do facing the same circumstances. This is just human nature playing out in a quest for a better life.”
At the end, there is moving footage too of the loving goodbyes at the ferry as the Venezuelans head off to Joint Base Cape Cod and an unknown future. Before the credits, we read that all the migrants obtained U visa certification, which was the first step toward permanent residence in the country. But Becker tells me that their journey is far from complete. He says, “We’ve been in touch with folks; it’s still a struggle. For this group, having left their country behind and then being stuck in rules and policymaking that don’t allow them to work legally, hanging in limbo is a very tough situation for any human being to be in. They are looking at months or maybe even a couple of years before getting to a point where they can go out to work and make money.”
He continues, “One of the things we’re learning in keeping up this dialogue is that the subsidies available to people in this strange middle ground are just not enough to get by, so we’re hearing a lot of stories about giving themselves lunch is considered a treat, they’re skipping meals, and living conditions are substandard for some.”
“Waiting to Continue” will make you proud of the part the Island played when we were able to immediately make a difference. Persinko says about the film, “I think you can see these three days as the worst that can happen. They had been on such a long journey, and then to be deceived and sent somewhere for some larger political mission. Then there is this spontaneous outpouring of support from a community, and that’s some of the best of people and their hearts. At the core what I hope comes through is that you felt great about your neighbors in a moment when we gave a lot to render aid to people who were strangers.”
In addition to the great roster of upcoming films this summer at the Grange Hall are those for the family at the drive-in, which is a collaboration with the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard. Just a few among the many include “The Princess Bride” on July 15, “Moana” on July 21, “Jaws” on July 22 and August 19, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” on August 12, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” on August 26. This year, the Island Autism Group will be providing concessions, while the Food Truck continues to cover all of your dinner needs, in case you didn’t pack your own picnic.
So there’s plenty for everybody this season. And all Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival events uphold their mission by offering pay-what-you-can ticketing at events, ensuring cost is no barrier to enjoyment.
“Waiting to Continue” screens on July 13 and August 24, 7 pm, at the Grange Hall, which is fully accessible for people of all abilities. It has a new elevator, a flexible seating plan, and hearing-assist devices available at all times. See circuitarts.thundertix.com/events/214270 for tickets. Drive-in tickets are available at driveinmv.com/2023films.