Nova Frontier Film Festival Presents THE SQUAT – Immigration Means Survival

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Nova Frontier Film Festival THE SQUAT

Visit Latin America, the Middle East, and the African Diaspora through Nova Frontier Film Festival Films

We first read the words of Warsan Shire on a simple black and white title card –“No one leaves home unless home is a mouth of a shark,” and fear the imagination of 50 rows of razor sharp teeth closing in. Slowly we are brought into the focus of the story. We’re on a filthy highway with a graffitied wall running along its side. As the camera moves up and above the highway, we see that atop the concrete wall sits a patch of grass, gravel and wooden homes.

As filmmaker Juan Pablo Montalva’s camera circles above and around the homes, it is clear that the Squat is a neighborhood built from plywood and plastic at an abandoned railroad station less than 20 feet above a Chilean highway. Colombian flags hang from doors and windows. Wooden crates painted blue have been made into benches. Placed all in a circle, our attention is brought to this space that is likely frequently full of residents socializing.

Colombian flags at the Squat are everywhere, indicating that the Colombians have made the land their own. The film takes many moments to highlight the happiness and relief of the squatters to be in Chile and out of Colombia. Yet, their relief is balanced with the clear anxiety of their new living situation in Chile. For many residents, their words were mixed with montages of their children as they play on the rocks and burnt rubbish surrounding the Squat.

NOVA FRONTIER FILM FESTIVAL shows an alternate reality

Behind plywood homes with plastic roofs, a man is shown dousing his garbage in gasoline. The ground is barren and rocky, and the thin walls barely provide relief from the cold the immigrants at the Squat must experience. With their largely exposed housing, the residents have little refuge from the colder, wetter Chilean months. For some, soiled mattresses are piled up along the walls of their home as a sort of insulation.

The confessional is augmented by the depravity of the residents’ surroundings. One man discusses the importance of dreaming small as the camera draws our attention to the piles of black trash bags behind him in the small wooden room. As he speaks, the camera then transports us to scenes of other residents reinforcing their walls with metal scraps and zip ties. One resident, who was a tourism photographer in Colombia, is shown before creative murals on the brown plywood boards of his home. Another woman from the squat spoke of the struggles of being Afro-Colombian in a country which is deeply discriminatory towards both Black people and Colombians. Her words are woven into scenes of women braiding each other’s hair.


Nova Frontier Film Festival THE SQUAT
Nova Frontier Film Festival THE SQUAT

Sound bleak? Not really. We see their happiness mainly in the positivity of the people’s spirit. One would think the families at the Squat might be on a fun camping trip, rather than gathered together warming their hands over the fire of burning appliances. Happily, they live above the Chilean highway, explaining that their humble homes are actually worlds improvement pver their former living conditions in Colombia.


The Squat highlights human stories to convey its overall positive message about immigration.

This award winning short will likely appeal to those interested in immigration policy as well as humanitarian documentaries.


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Creative Team: Juan Pablo Montalva (Director), Victor Rojas Morales (Cinematography), Yiyo Stalbuk (First Camera assistant), Jesus Urra (Sound), Miguel Gonzalez (Gafer), Sylvana Squicciarini (Edit), Persona (Music), Mostro Squad (Post Production-Color-Sound), Fernanda Prado (Subtitles).

Images courtesy of Nova Frontier Film Festival


Camille Aguilar

About the Author:

Camille is a senior at the University of Chicago where she studies Literature and Philosophy. There, she is a reporter for the Maroon, as well as a photographer for the student run culinary magazine: Bite. Her activism extends largely towards youth education, and she is currently an organizing executive of MUNUC the Model United Nations conference put on by UChicago students for over 1,500 international high school students annually. After college, Camille plans to continue writing creatively and professionally as she pursues a career in international human rights reform.

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