The world premiere of a documentary film described as coming down “dead center” in the national controversy over illegal immigration will take place at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall on Saturday. It was made by Dennis Michael Lynch, an East Hamptoner whose first documentary, “King of the Hamptons,” was well received at the Hamptons International Film Festival last year and was sold out when screened at Christmastime at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.
The new film, “They Come to America,” will be followed by a question-and-answer period moderated by John Roland, a former Fox 5 reporter, with Mike Cutler, a retired member of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Bill Streppone, an immigration attorney, as panelists.
Mr. Lynch’s desire to make the documentary was ignited more than a year ago when he was stopped at a traffic light on County Road 39 in Southampton near the 7-Eleven that laborers gather at looking for work. There, he saw a man (Tom Wedell) holding a large sign reading “Deport Illegals” while, at the same time, Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” was on the car stereo. He had driven passed that corner for five years, he said, but “you miss a lot at 40 miles per hour.”
He pulled over, began recording the scene on video, and decided to learn about “every possible side.” The project took him on a “heart-pounding,” fear-filled trip to the Mexican border in Arizona. “I couldn’t believe what I was capturing,” he said, describing being chased by members of a drug cartel. He didn’t tell his wife what he had got himself into until after he returned.
In the film, Mr. Lynch explores the economic issues that prompt immigration. “We don’t know who is being let in, and why they want to be here.” He said he watched vans apparently full of people of Arab and Asian descent come through, too. “You don’t see this in the papers,” he said.
The film has glimpses of two illegal immigrants, who, he said, have lived on the East End for five years, including in a shared house in Springs. “All of a sudden there are 40 new kids in school in Springs, and we pay for that,” he said.
The immigration issue reminds Mr. Lynch of the advice heard on airplanes — put your mask on first, then assist others. The borders are unsafe, he said, and the number of people walking over them into our country is unsafe, too. The situation is life threatening to those who live near the border. He said he is “turned off” by politicians who think the border is safe. “It is wide open. I was jumping in and out like a kid.”
“This is not a right-wing film. My opinion is not inserted in this film. The facts speak for themselves,” he said. “I am not a political guy, I am not registered for either party.”
He believes no one wants to touch the issue. “I’m just going to spend money making sure people see this film,” he said. “I have been turned down by every film festival, including Sundance, Slam Dance, Cleveland, TriBeCa, and Sarasota.” He was even turned down in Phoenix, where he did filming and where, he said, people were begging him to show it. He isn’t applying to the Hamptons Film Festival, he said, because he doesn’t want to get mad if it turns him down. He was, however, interviewed on Fox News.
Mr. Lynch’s family has owned a house in East Hampton since the early 1900s. He was a “weekend warrior” from childhood, and eventually bought the house from his grandmother about 10 years ago. After moving here permanently two years ago, Mr. Lynch has immersed himself in the community and coaches football for East Hampton Police Athletic League.
Mr. Lynch was among those who ran from the burning towers on Sept. 11. He had been a successful businessman in New York, driving fancy sports cars and enjoying the good life. He said that, as a five-time college dropout, he had achieved success himself. But his perspective on life changed that day. After a few years, to regroup and soul search, Mr. Lynch decided to go to film school. He was tired of the big house his family had in Massapequa, so they downsized, making the move to East Hampton, with far fewer televisions.
Tickets for Saturday’s screening, which starts at 7:45 p.m., are $12.50 in advance at theycometoamerica.com, or $15 at the door. The ticket price, he said, will go toward the cost of renting the theater. Any remaining proceeds will be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.