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I Know What Pandemic Means: Behind The Scenes of Our First Film

Documented's first film "I Know What Pandemic Means" was made from messages received via our WhatsApp community of undocumented immigrants

At the height of the pandemic last summer, we were receiving alarming messages on our WhatsApp hotline every day. These messages came from immigrant New Yorkers seeking urgent help. “I lost my job because of the pandemic and I haven’t been able to pay rent. Can you help me?” one reader said. “My landlord sued me.” We turned those submissions into I Know What Pandemic Means, a film and interactive website.

Go here to check out the site. Watch the film here:

I Know What Pandemic Means, Documented’s first film

Many of the members of our community of undocumented Latino immigrants asked us where to find free food, legal support, and financial aid as well as questions about how COVID-19 spreads, legal issues and many other subjects. Within these requests, were hints at the many ways the pandemic was altering life in immigrant communities in the City on an individual basis and as a whole. 

Drawing on a project from the Memphis based nonprofit news organization MLK50, we decided to ask our readers to tell us their stories with two requests:

  1. Tell us an anecdote or story about the challenges that the pandemic caused in your life.
  2. Tell us about someone who has made you smile, who has given a solution or who has given you a word of encouragement. Within hours, we had dozens of submissions.

Nearly all of those who responded spoke about losing work. One reader told us about getting stranded in Tampa after leaving Brooklyn to find work there. Another told us about the anxiety of being a new mother without work during the pandemic. Another reader spoke of helping to collect money from the neighborhood where she lived money to survive. 

“Me and my husband, we shared what little we had to eat with our friends,” she said, “and also for the funerals of our friends.” 

We wanted to do these stories justice, by highlighting the individual experiences of our readers while also telling the bigger story of New York City under the pandemic. So, we reached out to Waterwell, a nonprofit that tells civic focused stories through theater and film. We then hired Frisly Soberanis, a filmmaker from Queens, to string all of these stories into one film.

The result is I Know What Pandemic Means or Sé lo que es pandemia, a fifteen minute long film that follows members of our WhatsApp community as well as a website created with primary materials from the reporting process. 

On Wednesday May 12th, we premiered the film with Waterwell through a screening and question and answer session, moderated by actress and advocate Morena Baccarin and director Frisly Soberanis. 

“I feel like [the film] was a good place to practice some intention and remembering,” he said. “some meditation of what it has felt like personally on the ground.”

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