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Documentary film reveals struggles of migrant dairy farm workers

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Posted on January 28, 2013 |
By Xian Chiang-Waren



Milking_Parlor.jpg
A MIGRANT WORKER featured in “Hide,” a new documentary about migrant labor on Vermont dairy farms by Middlebury College students, stands in the milking parlor of an unnamed farm. The film will be screened Jan. 29 in Middlebury and Feb. 20 in Burlington.

ADDISON COUNTY — “Hide,” a new documentary film made by two Middlebury College students, takes viewers behind the scenes of Addison County’s picturesque landscape. It follows eight anonymous migrant workers laboring unseen in unnamed Vermont dairy farms and exposes the struggles of their daily lives, for the first time, to larger audiences.

“The film looks to be thoughtfully and artistically done,” said Cheryl Connor, a Bridport dairy famer and member of the Addison County Migrant Workers Coalition. “I do feel that a documentary and any other media should be used to make the public aware of our dairy farms and the migrant workers who keep them going.

“I have said before and will say again, that Vermont would not be a dairy state without the migrant workers. There is just no one else to milk the cows.”

The filmmakers, Middlebury College senior Elori Kramer and recent graduate Peter Coccoma, said they first learned that migrant workers were a presence in Vermont in their college classes. Coccoma, a native of Cooperstown, N.Y., spent a summer volunteering with Migrant Justice, the Burlington-based nonprofit that advocates for migrant workers.

“Through my time there I was introduced to many of the issues, and met many of the farmworkers that live in the area,” Coccoma said.

He stayed active with the organization, offering rides to migrant workers who, since they cannot be issued driver’s licenses, often go weeks or months without leaving the farms where they work.

“Vermont prides itself in its cultural emphasis on community as well as locally sourced agriculture,” Coccoma said. “Migrant farmworkers work to maintain our largest and most prized agricultural industry yet they are isolated from the vibrant community that we have developed here.”

“Hide,” which employs creative means to protect the identities of the workers it features, does not seek to politicize the issue but, rather, to humanize it. The migrant workers in the film, who can work undocumented hours and are not covered by fair labor practice rules, often described intense feelings of isolation, fear and lack of recognition.

“Sometimes you feel sad, other times depressed, sometimes alone because you are far away from your family and all those you hold dear in your home,” one worker said in the film.

“We were very conscious about the safety of the migrant workers and farmers we interviewed for the movie. It was a priority to let them feel safe to speak their mind,” said Coccoma. “Our hope with this film is to present the daily lives of migrant farmworkers working on dairy farms in Vermont and the issues that they face every day. More than tell a story, our intention is to communicate a ‘feeling’ that encompasses the emotional weight surrounding this issue through the images, multi-voiced narration, and music.”

“We wanted to be really careful not to point fingers with this film,” added Kramer, a geography major who hails from Minneapolis. “We can all agree that the milk industry is suffering, that NAFTA has created an economy that displaces Mexican workers, and that those workers are now supporting Vermont’s dairy industry in conditions that are oftentimes not great. We want to raise the question of what can be done about this rather than blame certain parties. Our film doesn’t give answers. That is for the viewer to decide.”

“Hide,” which premiered at the Mountaintop Film Festival in Waitsfield this month, will be screened in Middlebury on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. in Room 232 of the Axinn Center at Middlebury College, and on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. at Main Street Landing’s Filmhouse in Burlington.

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