Two years ago, Suzanne Andrews Correa and Mustafa Kaymak were making final preparations to shoot “Green,” a heartrending story about two brothers who must contend with the possibility of deportation and endure the physical and emotional pain of racial violence.
But casting on the short film, a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList film festival, proved to be an unexpected challenge — but for reasons out of their control. In an on-the-nose turn of events, one of the lead actors — Erol Afsin, a German citizen of Turkish descent who plays the title character — was initially denied a visa to the U.S. because he had visited one of the Muslim-majority countries that were targeted by the administration’s immigration ban. It wasn’t until the day before the shoot began that Andrews Correa knew whether Afsin could come to the U.S. for the film.
Still, finding actors who shared the same language (the majority of the film is spoken in Turkish) and could convincingly be brothers was crucial to Andrews Correa. “I was unwilling to have people speaking English because, for me, the language … was an expression of the bond between them,” Andrews Correa told TheWrap.
The resulting film is deeply emotional and political, but for Andrews Correa, rooted in the bond between the two brothers, who work in New York City as pedicab drivers. On top of the everyday injustices the two men experience — including thankless work that yields meager tips — one of the brothers is injured in a hate crime, leaving him in a dangerous position as going to the hospital or involving the police isn’t an option for him as an undocumented immigrant.
As he makes his way back to the group home he shares with his brother and several other undocumented men, he unknowingly brings the danger of deportation to the house as the police attempt to track him down.
The story was inspired by Kaymak’s experiences living in a similar group home in New York that served as a safe haven, of sorts, for immigrants. Though he stayed there for just a few weeks, Kaymak began listening to his housemates talk about their respective lives and realized that there was a story worth telling. Inspired by (but not based on) what he heard, Kaymak wrote a play about two brothers who shared a home with other men in the U.S. without legal documentation, which would become the first draft of the screenplay for “Green.” Along the way, he brought on Andrews Correa, a then-classmate at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, to help work on the script and direct the short film.
“I’m sure a lot of people would watch this short and say, ‘Ah, this is an immigration short and … speaking to what’s happening in the world right now,'” Andrews Correa said. “For me, it is that, but it is [also] really the story of two brothers, and then we put them in that world.”
The short film ends inconclusively, as it’s unclear whether the two brothers will be able to stay together after Green gets kicked out of the group home. Kaymak said he’s begun working on a feature-length script based on the same story, which he hopes to begin shooting next May for a late 2020 release.
As for the short’s open-ended conclusion, Andrews Correa said it speaks to the “precariousness” that still seeps into the everyday lives of undocumented immigrants today. And in light of recent acts of violence targeting communities of color, she said, there’s an added urgency to telling these kinds of stories. “Making films and telling stories is an enormous privilege and for me that comes with a moral responsibility,” Andrews Correa said. “In the face of violence like the massacre in El Paso, that sense of responsibility becomes more acute and you have to ask yourself whether you’re doing your part as a storyteller to elevate the conversation.”
Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote through Aug. 21.
For the record: A previous version of this article misstated that Green was shot.