Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Set Hernandez (unseen)

Our Rating

In unseen, director Set Hernandez profiles Pedro, a visually impaired undocumented immigrant striving to become a social worker. We posed our Qs à la mode to Set, and here’s what they shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Nuanced, resonant, accessible.

I decided to make this film because: In the beginning, it was all advocacy-oriented. I have been a community organizer in the immigrant-rights movement since I was 18 years old. When I met Pedro, I came to realize that immigrants with disabilities have often been disregarded in the advocacy work we did. I approached Pedro about filming his story, in hopes of helping to make the immigrant-rights movement more inclusive.

As time went on — seven years to be exact — I realized that confining Pedro’s story only within the parameters of his disability and immigration status fails to uplift his full humanity. Pedro might have struggles in life, but he’s more than just the sum of his hardships: he’s also funny, quirky, athletic, great at cooking, and everything in between. Beyond that, I learned how similar Pedro and I are when it comes to our emotional journeys and, eventually, I found myself resonating a lot with the things he would share with me during filming.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: One of the similarities that Pedro and I share is how much we both love eating. When the cameras were off, Pedro would take me to the most unlikely food spots in his neighborhood that only a true local would know about. I’ve had so much good food with Pedro! Maybe this is the reason why Pedro makes such great food — because you gotta eat well to cook well.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: A lot of behind-the-scenes footage within the film itself, where I would interact with Pedro from behind the camera. Footage that we originally could have left in the cutting room ultimately became some of the most important moments in the film, where we would break the fourth wall.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Not necessarily that it was the most challenging, but being an undocumented immigrant filmmaker presented me with a significant amount of challenges to make unseen — which is probably why it took seven years to bring this film to life. Because of my immigration status, I was ineligible to apply for many grants that required U.S. citizenship or permanent residence. This obstacle ended up being the reason I co-founded the Undocumented Filmmakers Collective, knowing that I myself cannot change this injustice alone.

Another significant challenge [undocumented filmmakers] face is our inability to travel internationally – which is why I am not at Hot Docs in person to celebrate the world premiere of our film with Pedro and our collaborators.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Gaffer’s tape was the unexpected hero of filming unseen. Most of the blurriness conveyed in the film is in-camera effects. In other words, the film was shot blurry deliberately, so that there was no option to make it “clearer” in post-production. I learned from cinematographer Kristy Tully that you can create hyperblurry footage if you cover the aperture of your camera with gaffer’s tape and poke a hole on it. Even without an expensive lens, we were able to film unseen the way that made the most sense for us.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: To seek out a community that can ground you in the things that matter most, especially if it’s your first feature. I’ve come to learn how important it is for me to know my worth, my values, and my purpose as to why I make films. This industry is so full of nos and rejections, but when I ground myself in the things that matter most, I can’t help but feel reassured and proud of the journey it took to get our film to this point. This realization didn’t come to me automatically. I just happen to be lucky that I found a creative community in my producers, editing team, and everyone who supported us in making unseen.

Want to check out Set’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!


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