Dr. Sarah-Jane Murray, Associate Professor of Great Texts and Creative Writing, recently produced Five Years North, a meaningful perspective on immigration in the United States. Although it is in early screening stages, the film has already won the Rhode Island International Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and has qualified for the Academy Awards. The production team has also just been selected as finalists for the Dupont-Columbia awards in journalism, alongside the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, and Netflix. This documentary is sure to cultivate meaningful conversation around the complex immigration issue.
Five Years North follows the parallel lives of a fifteen-year-old Guatemalan undocumented immigrant, Luis, and the Cuban-American ICE agent who patrols his New York neighborhood, Judy. This documentary portrays the complexities that lie in the United States’ immigration system, and explores how the system can be built upon compassion and restoration rather than punishment. Dr. Murray reflects on this and notes, “We cannot build a more compassionate system rooted in restoration without listening to, and hearing, what people grappling with the punitive aspects of the system have to say.” Dr. Murray asserts, “That’s why telling the stories of real people not only matters, but becomes critical when we want to shift the needle on social justice issues. By allowing us to live alongside individuals like Luis and Judy in the film, and giving us the opportunity to experience to some degree what they’re experiencing, film is like a great empathy machine.”
Dr. Murray hopes that the film will shed light on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States and will foster compassion for the many lives impacted. As a first-generation immigrant from Ireland, she shares that she feels particularly compassionate for those “in limbo in the immigration system.” The film’s production team was very intentional about involving voices portraying the many different immigration experiences. Dr. Murray’s fellow executive producer, Tolu Olubunmi, recently obtained her green card, but was a “dreamer” for many years. As Dr. Murray expresses, these two women had “profoundly different” immigration experiences. Therefore, involving both perspectives was a crucial aspect in developing a film that accurately portrays the US immigration system. At its heart, this film is a story—a story about two parallel lives, but one which represents and speaks to so many more. Dr. Murray puts it best when she states, “Stories change hearts. And changed hearts change the world.”
Five Years North is currently screening at the online film festival DocNYC until November 19th, and the team hopes to share news about further distribution soon. In addition to this project, Dr. Murray has written three books, performed two TED talks, is EMMY®-nominated, and was selected in 2018 as one of the #50Women[who]Can change the media & entertainment industries. In 2020, she was awarded the “Film in Action” achievement award from the Ouray International Film Festival. These are just a few highlights from Dr. Murray’s impressive repertoire. The Honors College is proud to host such a notable and impactful professor.