Class of 2019 Film alumnx Jeff Bemiss was recognized with a 2022 Peabody Award for his 2020 documentary MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY (co-directed by Lisa Molomont). Prior to this award, VCFA interviewed Bemiss about MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY for the 2021 edition of the alumnx magazine, in residence. You can read the story behind the film, as it appeared in the magazine, below.
Movies That Remind Us of Our Humanity
“I still can’t believe how long documentary filmmakers spend on a film. I am starting to measure my remaining time on earth in units of completed films.”
For the past five years, award-winning filmmaker and 2019 Film alumnx Jeff Bemiss has been filming in a place most would consider the definition of middle-of-nowhere America: Brooks County, Texas.
Released in October 2020, Bemiss’s film MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY centers on this 944 square miles of the American South. Co-directed and produced with Lisa Molomont, MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY follows two families searching for their loved ones who crossed the US/Mexico border and went missing in one of the most notoriously dangerous US interior checkpoints. In this Texas ranch land, only one in five missing persons are ever found.
In pursuing his projects as a filmmaker, Bemiss explains, “Choosing a project is intuitive. Every idea starts in the heart. Often, it’s a story fragment that moves me emotionally.” After hearing about the human bodies being exhumed in Brooks County in an episode of StoryCorps on NPR, Bemiss and Molomont knew that the story of Brooks County—the extreme loss of life in the land of the “American Dream”—needed to be filmed.
“If this crisis were a war or a genocide, there would be a lot of attention and money would flow toward the problem,” explains Bemiss. “But migration is quiet. People walk into the desert and vanish. These deaths are shameful. They are also invisible. [Molomont] and I believe that if lawmakers were to meet the families of the missing, they would think differently about the policies they are creating.”
Bemiss’s film and his work are a call to viewers—a call for Brooks County to be seen. Films as a medium and an art have impact, and to Bemiss and his crew, the impact a film can provide in highlighting a humanitarian crisis is that of vulnerability and visibility. “What a film can offer is a deeper emotional experience,” says Bemiss. “The format of a movie allows time to show how our border policy affects individual lives. People need the facts. They need to see what’s happening in places like Brooks County.”
Bemiss was trained as a scripted filmmaker, and MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY is his first full-length documentary—a new direction in his career that reminded Bemiss why he picked up a camera in the first place.
“This film taught me to embrace spontaneity,” says Bemiss. “I grew tired of waiting for permission from investors and financiers to create scripted work. With documentary, if you have an idea and a camera, you can start. Making documentaries actually put me back in touch with why I am drawn to movies in the first place.”
“Movies,” Bemiss explains, “remind us of our humanity.”
Visit missinginbrookscounty.com to learn more about the film and the events taking place in Brooks County, Texas.