Blog: Harvard Law Documentary Studio

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April 26, 2012

The World of a Florida Citrus Worker

Posted by Cara Solomon

Yesterday we ran a feature about a clinical student, Lauren Estévez, JD ’13, who directed a documentary about citrus workers in Florida.
Today, a profile of one of the workers featured in her film.

The worst days are clear, hot and windless. The sun beats the body on a day like that.  So before the picking begins, C tries to have a good talk with his partners, the men and women who work in the groves.

He’ll ask where they grew up; what they like about this country versus that; get them remembering their favorite childhood memories. Anything positive to start off the day.

“Don’t worry,” he sometimes tells them, when he sees a hard day ahead. “We’re going to get done with this day, and we’re going to get on to the next day.”

After 10 years of picking citrus, C knows how to work the heat. He has learned the best way to position his ladder to save five minutes from the picking of a tree. He knows not to go for weight, even if weight gets you higher wages; better to stick with a half-full picking bag than to risk the force of it making you fall and lose more time and money.

It’s all about technique.

“We’ve been learning from people who have been doing this before we started,” says C. “We pass the word—one generation to another generation.”

The work is hard, and the young ladies from Harvard saw that. They were there for days, filming C and his partners as they carried 90 pound sacks of oranges on their backs. They saw how busy hands can get in the branches. They heard about aches that go deep into bone.

C was glad they came. It’s always nice to meet young people who are getting an education; it’s what he wants most for his own children. And he could tell the students were learning.

“Everything they saw here, it touched their feelings,” says C, one of several workers the students interviewed for their documentary. “And whenever they become lawyers, I know they’re going to have in mind all the things they saw.”

Maybe somebody powerful will watch the students’ film and say: Let’s do something about the wages for the undocumented workers. When C first started picking, more than a decade ago, he made $100 a day. Now he makes about $60 for 10 hours of work.

It’s hard for C to blame anything other than the recession. He knows some people living off food stamps now, in one of the richest countries in the world.

“They got to be focused on the main thing, which is the economy for the country,” he says. “After that, they can take care of us.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, C still has dreams of farming. He grew up on a ranch in Mexico. The soil is rich where he lived. But without the rain to feed it, the soil might as well have been poor. Until his four children are raised, he won’t even consider going back.

Here, they’ve got stability. They’ve got good schools. This country expects children to get educated, from kindergarten all the way to high school.  C wants to see how far they can go.

“I hope they can go as high as they can as students, to be anything they want—doctors, teachers, lawyers, anything,” he says.

His oldest daughter is testing those limits now. She has the acceptance letters to go to college. But she is missing a social security number.

“She’s been losing a lot of scholarship opportunities,” C says.

C tries to stay focused on his goals: to be a good father, a good neighbor, a good partner in the groves. His daughter calls his work the worst thing she’s ever seen. To C, it’s just a living.

He sees new people in the groves all the time now. Maybe they picked another kind of fruit, and slow and steady is how they went, trying to protect the skin. Citrus is all about speed. Work all day, and you might get $37- or you might get $76. Depends on how many thousands of pounds you can pick.

Sometimes the new workers will fumble on their ladders, trying to move too fast. That’s when C will climb down his own ladder and walk over with words of advice. Sometimes they like it. Sometimes they don’t. But this is the way it works, C thinks: pickers as partners, for as long as they have to stay.

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April 13, 2012

Tomorrow, April 14: Harvard Law DOCS Film Festival

Posted by Cara Solomon

For anyone interested in film or social justice, tomorrow will be a treat: Harvard Law Documentary Studio is presenting its first annual festival of student films. The topics run the gamut, from citrus workers in Florida to transgender asylum seekers to life on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

We’ll have more on the festival  next week, with a focus on one of the filmmakers, Lauren Estévez, who is a member of the International Human Rights Clinic. For now, check out the excellent trailer for the event here.

Event Notice

April 14, 2012

“Doc Festival 2012”

2:00- 4:30 pm
Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

The Harvard Law Documentary Studio proudly presents its first annual festival of Harvard student films. Join us for a celebration of stories that capture the human condition, challenge our assumptions, and imagine a better world. HLS lecturer and filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen will moderate the post-screening panel. Please RSVP on Facebook to help spread the word.


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March 19, 2012

Today, March 20: Human Rights Abuses under Martial Law in Taiwan

Event Notice

March 20, 212

“Tongue Untied”

A Film Screening and (Free) Dinner

7:30 pm

Hauser 102

Please join the Taiwan Law Students Association and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio for a screening of Tongue Untied, a 2002 documentary that looks at the not-so-distant history of human rights abuse in Taiwan.

Today’s Taiwan is a vibrant example of a well-functioning Asian democracy. However, it has one of the darkest histories in the world. Its period of martial law had been the longest in the world when it was lifted, lasting for 38 years, from 1949 to 1987. As in many authoritarian states, during these four decades, the Taiwanese people were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, executed, or disappeared, for their real or perceived opposition to the government. This documentary (with English subtitles) is the oral history of those who survived.


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November 17, 2011

Today: A Screening of “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today”

Posted by Victor Ban, JD '13

Please join us today at noon for a viewing of the ground-breaking film, “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today”.  As narrative, the film captures a moment in global history that continues to shape international conceptions of justice, war, and genocide.  As historical document, the newly restored footage is a testament to the raw power of visual media, a power that certain parties might seek to suppress or manipulate.  As creative endeavor, “Nuremberg” is the triumph of a team of filmmakers committed to seeking truth.

The Harvard Law Documentary Studio—a community dedicated to creating and screening original documentaries on social and policy topics —is honored to co-sponsor this event, along with the Human Rights Program, Facing History and Ourselves, and the HLS Office of the Dean.

Victor Ban, JD ’13, is  the President of the Harvard Law Documentary Studio (

Event Notice

“Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today”

12:00- 2:00 pm

John Chipman Gray

Introductory Remarks by Dean Martha Minow

Special guest Sandra Schulberg, restoration producer & daughter of filmmaker Stuart Schulberg, will discuss the use of motion picture evidence at the trial; the making of “Nuremberg”; and its subsequent suppression by the U.S. government.

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