“Estrellita”: a powerful digital story about immigration, ICE, and Vermont

Digital storytelling has always had the ability to speak to current issues.

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Today’s case in point is “Estrellita“, a very short animation about immigration, work, ICE, and loss, set in Vermont.

Click the image below to watch:


“Estrellita” was created by the Middlebury College Animation Studio, a team consisting of that college’s faculty, staff, and students.  (Full disclosure: Middlebury is one of my clients.)

In a very few minutes it covers a lot of ground.  From a child’s imagination we see a Vermont dairy farm in winter, complete not only with cows and lots of snow but a cow mountain and a giant, nearly industrial complex attached to the dairy.  We begin in a bucolic way, then change registers to a different type of fantasy, actually horror, which expresses both characters’ sense of loss.

A Burlington Free Press article adds more background.  Apparently the short wasn’t finished, but quickly released because of current events:

Members of the animation studio originally planned to release a final version of the project in early 2019. But, with the country currently enveloped in this very issue, it seemed necessary to release the film now, even though finals touches had yet to be made, said Daniel Houghton, the film’s director, who also heads the animation studio and teaches at the college.

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Community research played a role:

To better understand the issue, the animation team spoke with migrant families, including those with children at Middlebury Union High School, where, Houghton said, they learned of the challenges parents face in trying to explain to their children their undocumented status.

“A lot of kids don’t know that their parents are undocumented,” he said. “That shaped the drama of the animation: What if the day you found out your parents were undocumented was the day they were taken away?

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I’m impressed at the quality of this work, given how difficult good animation is, and how rich the imagination expressed.

Looking ahead, we should expect more instances of this kind of work as the production process continues to get incrementally easier.

But for now, just think about Estrellita’s eyes, or her father’s cap settled on snow.

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2 Responses to “Estrellita”: a powerful digital story about immigration, ICE, and Vermont

  1. Ann Anderson says:

    Thank you for sharing. I found it sobering, and the blend of the child’s view and reality to be fascinating.

    I did briefly wonder if the cow face on the mountain, which later crumbles away to reveal the real mountain, was also a veiled metaphor to New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain, i.e., an identifier, clung to and desperately supported and braced, but eventually, inevitably crumbled and fallen away, because reality is like that. I know this is a Vermont inspired film, but it did cross my mind.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      I’m betting that was indeed the reference.
      I don’t know most of the production team, but I’m sure most if not all were aware of the Old Man’s fall.

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