’All That Remains’ shows how the Tubbs fire affected farmworkers
There’s a scene in the short film “All That Remains” when a Mexican immigrant says, “We’re here in plain sight, but sometimes we’re invisible.”
Rising to that challenge, director Eva Rendle does everything in her power to remove the blinders, making sure the plight of undocumented workers a year after the 2017 fires is visible for all to see.
It’s the equivalent of watching a familiar play unfold on stage and realizing the drama is actually happening backstage, in this case as a narrative written on the backs of forgotten, unseen workers, many who risk their lives to cross the border to work jobs many Americans refuse.
Along the way, we learn how their apartments are infested with black mold and bed bugs that bite their children. The constant fear of ICE raids is pervasive. While most of us are sleeping, they’re out in the vineyard at 4 a.m. with headlamps.
“I know they do the nighttime harvests because of cooler temperatures, but it really reinforces this idea of being invisible — you don’t even see the people who are picking the grapes,” says Rendle, 30, who made the film as her thesis project while enrolled in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “You can’t make wine without them. You wouldn’t have a tourism industry without them. But you wouldn’t know they were there.”
Winning a 2019 Student Academy Award, the 20-minute film is released online Friday, Aug. 7, as the latest in the “Truly, CA” series on KQED.
Rendle began filming in October of 2018, a year after the Tubbs, Atlas and Nuns fires burned over 20,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, destroying more than 8,000 structures and forcing the evacuation of more than 90,000 people. During her first year of graduate study in 2017, she reported immediate fire stories for school projects. Afterward, Rendle wanted to explore how undocumented workers were coping a year later, in a shell-shocked region where rents had jumped 36%, she says.
Teaming up with a student crew, including cinematographer Marian Carrasquero, who conducted field translations, Rendle interviewed about 50 people and had a film roughly edited before the four main subjects backed out.
“The film covered such sensitive issues and people were really scared to be on camera — scared that they would lose their jobs — and these are all undocumented workers,” she says.
Eventually, Rendle connected with Consuelo Medrano, who does grassroots community outreach for Puertas Abiertas, a Latino resource center in Napa, where she can’t even afford an apartment on her own.
“Immediately you could tell she was such a hero in her community,” says Rendle, who listened intently as Medrano, now a U.S. citizen, told the story of how she moved from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, so her kids could get a good education. Four of them later graduated from college.
Then there’s Gustavo Vargas, a permanent resident. The vineyard house where he lived had burned down. Midway through their interview, Vargas mentioned his life’s savings ($40,000 in cash, he says) had also burned in the fire.
“It was something we’d been hearing a lot, offhand, about how people’s money had burned in the fires,” Rendle says. “I think there was a lot of shame involved.”
Another common refrain she heard was how many undocumented workers planned to flee to the coast and jump in the waters of Bodega Bay to avoid the fires rather than go to shelters where ICE could be lurking.
As they continued researching the film, they were referred by an attorney to a Sonoma County farmworker and mother who insisted on remaining anonymous. She was suing her landlord for the recurring mold, bedbugs and other unlivable conditions in her apartment. It was so bad her family of six had to move to a hotel room, where they shared two beds. The parents took turns sleeping in the car.
“For her, everything she was doing was for her children,” Rendle says. “I think she had reached the point of no return, where she was just so scared for her children and so protective of them that she was at the end of her rope and ready to do whatever it took to protect her children.”
The gap between the haves and have-nots was something Rendle first noticed while living in Sonoma briefly before graduate school. “It really felt like in every town there were two sides of town and there was a huge separation between those who were enjoying the tourism industry and those who were propping it up. It was a very shocking juxtaposition.”
Knowing trust is at the core of most documentaries, Rendle was careful not to overstep boundaries.
“It felt very important to me to be really aware of the power dynamic, with me not being from the community. I’m a white woman and I have a lot of privilege and power going into these situations, and I need to be really conscious of that.
“We never really tried to convince people to go on camera. It felt important to me to never pressure anyone. And to try to be as honest as possible and honest about what would actually appear in the film.”
Now living in Denver after graduation, Rendle is working as an associate producer on another film and planning for other short films in the works. Still fresh in her mind is the journey to Los Angeles to attend the Student Academy Awards last fall.
“I was not expecting that at all,” she says. “It was such a surprise and such an honor. We got to go to L.A. and spend a whole week seeing the Academy archives and meeting Academy members. It was just so surreal. It was also cool to see how the film resonated with people, especially people who lived in California, where the fires are a huge part of their reality but they’d never really considered how it impacted farmworkers or how it impacted undocumented people.”