Student filmmaker tells her own immigration story
Editors Note: Melissa Sue Lopez is a photographer at the Pioneer
After waiting nearly 20 years for her legal status, now U.S. resident and OCCC film and theater major, Melissa Sue Lopez, is working on the biggest project of her career, “9 Digits to Freedom.”
“Anybody that’s struggling to make a dream come true will connect with me and my story,” Lopez said.
The documentary, “9 Digits to Freedom” will take the audience through her journey as an immigrant, Lopez said.
She said she has experience directing feature films, short films and music videos but this project would be her first documentary.
The accessibility to equipment, feedback from peers, and most importantly the guidance and support of OCCC professors has contributed greatly to the film so far, Lopez said.
Lopez has developed a group of colleagues who help out when needed.
Arts Division Dean Ruth Charnay counts herself among Lopez’s supporters.
“I think I’ve tried to continue to be supportive, that if she was struggling, or had times when things weren’t working right, I was always able to reassure her that she was on the right track,” Charnay said.
“You could say my crew is made up of some of our professors,” Lopez said.
Greg Mellott, film and video professor, Gwin Faulconer-Lippert, mass media communications professor, Julie Corff, speech communications professor, and Rick Lippert, journalism and broadcasting professor are among those giving feedback on the project, Lopez said. Corff believes professors at OCCC truly care about students and are willing to help them but students need to be active.
“Be intentional about deciding who would be the best professor to help you, but you’ve got to go, you’ve got to put forth the effort, you’ve got to be the one to make the phone call,” Corff said.
Entering legally into the U.S. in 1994 with her parents, the 15-year-old immigrant from Mexico City did not foresee the struggles she would be forced to overcome. Once Lopez’s parents received their residency cards in 1997, they filed to seek status for their daughter, Lopez said.
Time passed by and still nothing. In 2003, Lopez’s parents became U.S. citizens, Lopez said.
“I did not come into the United States illegally,” Lopez said. “We entered by following the rules, paid money, filled out the paperwork; so why had six years passed and I still didn’t have any updates.”
Lopez believes the system is broken in regards to the policies concerning immigration, which makes it extremely difficult for those awaiting legal status, and who want to follow the law.
Because of the age requirement, Lopez was ineligible to benefit from the Dream Act which states persons must be between ages 15 and 30, according to immigrationpolicy.org.
“But I come from a family that never gives up,” Lopez said.
Lopez said she worked without pay, similar to an internship, with important professionals because she was still awaiting official status and legally she could not work. Things became worse when producers would claim her ideas as their own Lopez said.
“A few of my projects were stolen,” Lopez said. Without the struggles and the fight she was forced to find within herself, Lopez said she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Finally in 2015, Lopez received her nine digit number, her social security card. Even though now she can work legally, Lopez still lacked another very component to launch her career – a college degree.
Lopez said she returned to OCCC for her associate’s degree.Throughout her life, Lopez filmed herself capturing the most raw moments of her life, many featured in her documentary, Lopez said.
Lopez said she works on the 70 minute documentary every day, making cuts and edits, after receiving constructive criticism from her professors.
Every change is difficult Lopez said. “I constantly bump heads with Greg Mellott, film and video production professor, because I see things one way, and he sees them another when it comes to what the audience will be impacted by.
“But he had a point, the story is about me, my story, and the difficulties I conquered,” Lopez said.
She said trusting her professors is key to learning and producing valuable projects.
“Trust them, they know what you need in order to succeed,” Lopez said.
Lopez said her work has also caught the attention of Telemundo reporters and she couldn’t be more excited about it.
Cecilia Hernandez-Cromwell, news producer and weekend reporter with Tyler Media said she knew of Lopez from a former reporter and recognized her at the Latino Film Festival in 2015, where Lopez won Best Oklahoma Film. In 2013, Lopez said she won the Jurist Award and People’s Choice Award at the In Color Film Festival in Oklahoma City, Lopez said.
“She’s a motivator to everybody, people who are interested in communications, to Hispanics, to females wanting to direct, it’s a very hard field to get into if you’re a female and I think it will help people,” Hernandez-Cromwell said.
The Telemundo segment featuring Lopez can be found on Cecilia Hernandez-Cromwell Telemundo Oklahoma’s Facebook page.
Lopez said she wants to show her story all over the world and has began a campaign to raise funds.
“People can go to kickstarter.com
and search “9 Digits to Freedom,” Lopez said.
Melissa Sue Lopez can be contacted via her Facebook page, 9 Digits to Freedom.