ShortList 2018: How ‘Debris’ Director Built Thriller About Undocumented Construction Workers (Video)

“Sometimes we don’t realize that our connection to [labor] trafficking is a lot closer than we think,” Julio Ramos says

Last Updated: August 9, 2018 @ 1:55 PM

Julio Ramos said he was inspired to shoot his short film “Debris,” about a gruesome accident on a construction site, after observing an incident involving immigrant construction workers without documentation on the remodeling of a friend’s house.  

In the film, a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival, a worker named Rafa (Jorge Diaz) has fallen off the roof and impaled himself — but the crew boss Tadevos (Karren Karagulian) refuses to transport him to a hospital and instead calls in a shifty “doctor” to treat him on a basement floor.

Ramos said he researched labor trafficking and what it actually entailed — luring people from Third World countries to the U.S., stripping them of their passports and their rights. “I was asking myself, ‘If a trafficker has an equity or an investment on these workers … what would it do to them if they became incapacitated?'” he told TheWrap. “I was forming this thriller based on that aspect.”

Ramos, a graduate of UCLA’s MFA program, said he chose to tell his story in four long shots to keep the film subjective, to follow crew leader Armando (Tenoch Huerta) wherever he went on the site.

“We knew the longer we could continue rolling, the more engaged the audience could potentially be, or at least be more on the edge,” said Ramos, adding that he was influenced by the shooting styles used in films such as “American Honey” and the German thriller “Victoria.”

Although the owners of the home are never seen, the stark white porch and expansive interior is a looming reminder of what the workers themselves lack — a proper bathroom, potentially heat or even beds to sleep on.

Even for viewers who think they have no direct connection to the immigrant experience, “Debris” may still hit close to home.

“Sometimes we don’t realize that our connection to trafficking is a lot closer than we think, and it comes down to just to asking yourself, ‘Do you know who the people are that are going to your house to do these jobs, do you know is are actually building these beautiful homes in America?” Ramos said. “The beautiful apple that is sitting on your table right now, who picked it, who hired the person that picked it?”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also watch all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.