A town that’s become a symbol of “saving our jobs”
is ironic ground-zero for migrant worker exploitation
a film by Min Sook lee
WORLD PREMIERE at Hot Docs
Sunday May 1 – 9:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2
Other festival screenings:
Tuesday May 3 – 1:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre 3
Sunday May 8 – 1:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2
Leamington – a place of recent national pride for its all-Canadian greenhouse tomatoes – reveals its hidden realities of migrant-labour exploitation in Min Sook Lee’s revelatory documentary Migrant Dreams.
The town houses thousands of temporary workers each year –one of several across Ontario– from the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia, who go there for the jobs in the booming agricultural industry.
In the remarkably intimate Migrant Dreams, we see the human face of the exploitation that often accompanies the temporary foreign worker program – a category of non-permanent migrants in Canada that due to the particularities of the system are left vulnerable to abuses.
Working stealthily, with a local activist named Cathy and members of the group Justice for Migrant Workers, Lee uncovers examples of both mistreatment and environmental hazards. She also gains the confidence of a group of Indonesian women whose fight has since become central to a series of criminal charges of extortion and exploitation.
The women pay thousands of dollars in dubious “fees” to recruiters for the opportunity to be flown to Canada and effectively be held prisoners to debt – living sometimes 16 to a house. They have a wide range of life experiences, including Nanik, a mother who is working to provide school tuition for her two children back home, and whose Skype chats with them are heart-breaking.
Any sign of defiance brings repercussions, as with Umi, whose hours are cut when she dares to move out of recruiter-controlled housing and live independently. Falling short financially, she also must deal with the death of her mother from 15,000 km away.
And then there are Dwipa, a trans man, and Rahmi – two people from different religions who fall in love and decide to get married, with repercussions both with their recruiter in Canada and their families back home.
The mere act of complaining can result in firing. Lee’s bold camera is an empowering outlet for those courageous enough to speak up.
“The stakes involved in participating were high,” Lee says. “I’m making this documentary because I hope it is used as a tool for political change. At the same time, the women who participated in the film put their livelihoods at stake. And we were always mindful of this.”
“But the goal is worth fighting for. This is a doc about women rebels in Canada’s migrant program – sister resisters.”
Migrant Dreams is written, directed and produced by Min Sook Lee, produced by Lisa Valencia-Svensson, with Rose Gutierrez as Executive Producer.
About Min Sook Lee
An award-winning filmmaker with a diverse and prolific portfolio of multimedia work, Min Sook Lee has directed numerous critically-acclaimed social documentaries, including: My Toxic Baby, Donald Brittain Gemini winner Tiger Spirit, Hot Docs Best Canadian Feature winner Hogtown, El Contrato, Badge of Pride and Canadian Screen Award winner The Real Inglorious Bastards. Min Sook is also an Assistant Professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University where she teaches Art and Social Change.
Min Sook is a recipient of the Cesar E. Chavez Black Eagle Award for El Contrato’s impact on the rights of migrant workers, and Canada’s oldest labour arts festival, Mayworks, has named the Min Sook Lee Labour Arts Award in her honour.
About Lisa Valencia-Svensson
Based in Toronto, Lisa Valencia-Svensson is an award-winning documentary film producer who has been involved in the industry for over a decade. Her first feature length documentary was Herman’s House, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, among many other accolades. Lisa has associate produced several films including Tribeca and Hot Docs winner The World Before Her.