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Least of These, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A society can be judge on how it treats the least of its members."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: "The Least of These" is maybe not a rarity as far as documentaries go, but it does seem unusually focused. The way things were being run at the T. Don Hutto detention facility offers the filmmakers plenty of opportunities to go off on various policy-related tangents, winding up with a film that might be almost TOO tight.

The T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, TX is, as of this writing, a former prison used by the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division to house unapproved immigrants from countries other than Mexico, specifically those arriving with families. It is operated by Correctional Corporation of America, a government contractor whose primary business is managing prisons. The facility went into operation because in May of 2006, the US government ended the "catch and release" policy where most immigrants were given a court date and monitored intermittently.

As obviously imperfect as the old system was, The Least of These argues that Hutto is far worse. We are introduced to several families of detainees - notably the Yourdkhani family, Iranians seeking to return to Canada, where they had previously been granted political asylum, with their Canadian-born son Kevin; Denia, who fled domestic abuse in Honduras while pregnant; and Ana Mabel, who came from El Salvador with her daughter. We also are introduced to several activists that advocate for them: Michelle Brané of the Women's Refuge Commission, Barbara Harris of the University of Texas at Austin Law School's Immigration Clinic, and Vanita Gupta of the ACLU.

ICE did not allow the filmmakers to shoot inside of Hutto, so they had to make do with a variety of other sources for any footage depicting the inside of the facility. They opt for the best footage they can get, rather than making a point of how secretive ICE and CCA can be with footage that looks as though it was surreptitiously obtained. Much of the rest of the film is interview footage, often taken at the homes of the detainees' attorneys. The rest is media coverage, particularly of the Youdkharis, who made the news in Canada several times. The filmmakers cut it together well, concisely delivering their information and telling their story.

Oddly, it may be a bit too concise. During the Q&A, a number of other incidents were brought up, and the filmmakers said that they specifically chose not to delve into broader issues such as privatization. On the one hand, it allows the film to remain exceptionally focused on the question it poses in the beginning - do we want to be a country that has figured how to lock up children? - but on the other, this sort of documentary could do with a loose end or two. We learn the outcomes of the featured cases and ACLU lawsuit, and the film closes on a clip of Barack Obama giving a speech that includes the title. If this film is supposed to be at least partly a call to action, it maybe could have found a way to leave things a little less settled.

There is still work to be done, though - there always is. It's certainly worth an hour or so at Snag Films ( to learn about this situation and "The Least of These" makes good use of this time.

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originally posted: 03/23/09 14:45:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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