Set in the small town of Warsaw, Indiana, Long Gone By, now playing on HBO, tells the story of Ana Alvarez. An undocumented immigrant who has just been notified of an Order of Removal from the United States. She only has two weeks to get her affairs in order. One of those affairs is her daughter, Izzy, who just was accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the State. Ana, then, goes on a mission. Get enough money to leave her daughter tuition before time runs out. By any means necessary. Even if she has to straddle the fence between delinquent and lawful behavior. ‘LLERO sat down with the director and screenwriter of the film, Andrew Morgan, to get some insight on the film’s inspiration and themes. As well as his views on Latino representation in film and the impact COVID-19 is having on filmmaking.
‘LLERO: What inspired the story for Long Gone By?
Andrew Morgan: I was actually doing some documentary work that took me to spend time with some families who were going through things similar to what kind of forms the backdrop of Ana’s story in the film. It was just a really moving experience. It was an incredibly eye-opening period of time for me. I started reading a lot more about it all. At that time, Erica Muñoz, who plays Ana Alvarez in our film, was producing with me on the documentary. So we started to have some conversations around a film and a story in a way to humanize some of the all too often macro, unknowable, faceless, nameless struggles facing undocumented immigrants in this country. We also talked about trying to make something a little bit more subversive and interesting and less typical. Could we tell a story that sort of challenged a little on some of the tropes and stereotypes? We started developing the project together. I started initially really writing it with [Erica] in mind.
‘LL: How did the transition for Erica go from helping you produce the film to actually starring in the film?
AM: I’ve known Erica for years. I have always wanted to really build a film around her. She’s one of those people that in real life as well as in her acting is just really captivating. I had always kind of had that desire, both as a friend and, also, just as somebody who really admired her work a lot. So, really, from day one, it was her. The first second I sat down to start writing, I always had her in my mind. We never did any other casting or didn’t really look anywhere else. It was always her.
‘LL: You mentioned earlier that you didn’t want to go the typical route in telling the story. This film takes a thrilling—and unexpected—turn midway through. Where did the idea come from to have Ana step outside of the law, so to speak?
AM: I think it’s so easy for people who have a lot of options and who society has wildly favored in all sorts of ways to sort of cross their arms and judge people for certain decisions. To me, it was really interesting to think about it as a parent myself, and as a human being. Like, ‘What would I not do for one of my kids if I put myself into a situation that simply had no good options?’
When somebody is pushed against the wall, what actually could happen? I, also, think on top of that, the film is also a little bit cynical in a way. Because it’s like I’m trying to make a case for our oversimplified notions of what is legal and what is illegal. Of who is right and who is wrong fit into these very simple categories. I was just fascinated by the idea of trying to challenge those.
‘LL: What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing the film?
AM: I hope that there’s an indelible sense of humanity. I think throughout history human beings are capable of incredible empathy and understanding when they view people as people. We are usually at our absolute worst, most dangerous and most destructive anytime we sort of group any people into an unknowable, unnamable category. I think it gets really, really dangerous.
Even my experience that I’ve had with some of these families. It just leaves an indelible mark where you can’t have a policy conversation. You can’t have an argument without beginning from a basis of we’re talking about human beings. And, as basic as that sounds, I wanted to give people in one sitting. A sense like they got to spend a few minutes in someone else’s shoes. I hope that that just goes back with them and informs whatever their opinions may be. Whatever they’re going to fight for or speak up for, I hope it’s just lined with more humanity.
‘LL: We were hoping to get your view on Latino representation in the film industry. Do you think Latinos are more properly represented in the film industry than they were some years ago?
AM: In a sense, I see steps. I still see a lot more conversation than actual action though, if I’m being honest. I think it’s really easy to talk about representation, and to some of those ideas in Hollywood. I think it’s really easy to stand behind in theory.
In practicality, though, what it means is bringing people into the writing process, developing projects that allow for more interesting characters. Because I still feel like it’s really limited. It still feels very one-dimensional. I think part of where that comes from is treating casting like the end of the process. Even for me, as a white person myself, I was trying to be really, really careful. It’s really delicate. I still feel really delicate about it. I’m trying to tell a story. I’m trying to give a voice to someone like Erica to lead a film. But my experience is really limited, so, I just tried to walk into it as humble as I could and to get as much research and expertise and experience around me.
I just think that’s the recipe. Because the more that’s done from that very starting point—not as a like, “How can we make this film more diverse later?” You’re gonna see those characters that really are true and interesting and more full.
‘LL: Now that you’ve done a film about the struggles of undocumented immigrants in this country, are there other stories relating to the Latino experience in America that you feel that you want to tell?
AM: The short answer is a lot. I still feel like we’re living in this intense moment right now where obviously there’s just so much of a tectonic shift happening in this country. There are stories and issues everywhere. But I will say, for me personally, I think the stories around and affecting this community in particular they’re just really vibrant. They’re really interesting. They’re really exciting, and they’re really underexposed and untold.
The documentary work and stuff that I come from, I kind of have a background and am really interested in groups of people who aren’t afforded the same voice. Or it feels like a lot of their story or struggles are unfolding in the dark. When it comes to the undocumented community, I just feel like we’re not even scratching the surface about being honest about what’s taking place in this country. And what has been taking place for many, many years to get to this point in this country. So, both on the scripted side and for me even on a documentary side. I’m just really interested in finding ways to both tell some of the stories and also support other people in the really difficult work.
‘LL: COVID-19 is changing the way industries operate in all fields. How do you think it’s going to impact film? And, what do you have in mind when producing a film under the “new normal”?
AM: Well, it’s interesting. On a practical level, in one way, the stuff that I do is done with an incredibly small team. So, in some ways, I think once we’re able to start shooting again, that’s going to be an advantage. In another way, I think that documentary stuff in particular is going to be incredibly challenging for a while. We’re still trying to figure out what that means. I feel like so many people don’t have a really good grasp on that. We’re trying to figure out, obviously, how to be safe, and how to stay nimble and stay lean enough that we can continue to tell the kind of stories that we want.
As for the story side, it’s just really fascinating. I’m just trying to begin to get my arms around this like everybody. But I feel like some of the urgency around a variety of stories relating to justice, all the way to environmental crisis, just got more urgent. And, I don’t say that in a way that like they weren’t before, but from a public design. Like there’s some sense of not just the problems. But the possibilities of what we could actually do together in these moments.
There’s some kind of wakeup call or reckoning happening. It’s going to change a lot of the storytelling going forward and, I, like anyone, am trying to just listen and learn and feel the pulse as much as I possibly can to figure out what’s most helpful after this moment stepping forward.
‘LL: What’s some advice that you would give them?
AM: My advice is to trust your instincts and follow curiosity. Some of the most meaningful things I’ve ever been a part of making have been a result of conversation, or a newspaper article or something so small that struck a chord. The ability to go pursue that has led me consistently to the most meaningful stuff I think sometimes we undervalue. That voice inside that gently guides us towards the things that are fascinating and intriguing and important to us.
These projects are so big and so involved and complicated and long that it’s got to be that sort of personal spark. You can’t do it for someone else. You can’t do it just because you think something’s trending right now. You have to do it because there’s a pulse in your heart. And you feel like you could contribute something.
Long Gone By is currently streaming on HBO Max and HBO Go.