LatinoBuzz: Interview with 'Underwater Dreams' Filmmaker Mary Mazzio

LatinoBuzz got to see “Underwater Dreams” written and directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Michael Peña. It is a beautiful story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot from Home Depot parts. And then go on to defeat engineering powerhouse MIT in the process. It is a powerful conundrum of sheer beauty and heartbreak. At the end what we are left with, through tears, is some hope but so many questions about immigration reform. We urge you to see this film!

LatinoBuzz: How did you come across this subject?

Mary : A Teacher sent me the story many years ago. I looked into it and saw that CNN had done a piece as had Nightline. There was also a terrific article in Wired Magazine by Josh Davis. But no film. When I called the teachers involved (many years ago), they thanked me for calling and told me that there were in the middle of signing a deal with Warner Brothers, and that as they say “was that”… Until it wasn’t. I called every year to check in and every year Warner Brother would extend their option. Only when I called in late 2012, that had changed. The studio’s rights had lapsed and I was able to dive into the project. I was extraordinarily lucky.

LatinoBuzz: How invested were you with the protagonists? Are you still in their lives?

Mary: Both of the teachers – as well as the original four young men (and many students in their wake that they inspired), they are such remarkable people. Oscar and I were recently together on The Colbert Report and he was cool, calm and collected. So strong. The other three and I spent time together at the Nclr convention – and I was reminded, again, how similar we all are and how so often we analyze our differences in such a polarizing political climate but really, how alike we are. I admire the strength and courage that these boys (and teachers) all have – and the many students who came after them – how aspirational they are even when faced with artificial impediments to success.

LatinoBuzz: My favorite scene was when they went to visit MIT ( The Massachusetts Institute of Technology ) and how all their lives had taken other paths. It was melancholy -- how did you feel behind the camera hearing it?

Mary: Great question. Here were four young men who had the skill and smarts and practical common sense to compete against the likes of MIT in a sophisticated engineering competition, and how their lives turned out, 10 years later. The MIT students, all incredible bright and able, were pursuing extraordinary engineering paths. One young man invented the Ear Bud for Apple. Another joined a company looking for the missing Malaysian airliner. However, the four young men from Phoenix, Az – their professional path took a very different turn, due in large part to poverty and due in large part to poverty and due in another large part, to the issue of documentation. Here we have remarkable talent, from zip-codes and places that are often overlooked and America is in desperate need of this talent. By 2018, there will be over 1.2 million jobs open for scientists, engineers, computer programmers and mathematicians. American companies need this kind of talent to fuel innovation and growth. The critical question is this: How do we catalyze this talent? Nurture it? Create equal opportunities for college education (or even vocational education) for these kinds of students.

Listening to all of the students go around the room, talking about their lives and where they were. What really struck me in the moment, was that it was a discussion among peers, among engineers and MIT treated the Carl Hayden team as equals, as engineers and vice versa. So, even though the scene reveals the real disparity of what happens when you, as a student, are facing poverty and, more specifically, the inability to move forward because of documentation, there was also the fact that the MIT team and the Carl Hayden team approached each other as equals. I had the opportunity to screen the film on the west coast and several of MIT students appeared, one of them said to me: “I had no idea how important that competition would be or my roll in it. This is a really important story to tell”

LatinoBuzz: How did Michael Peña get involved?

Mary: Michael was my first choice to narrate this film and he also came aboard as an Executive Producer. I found his agent and manager and wrote them a three paragraph email about the project, about me, about my goals with the project. I received an email within the next 72 hours. Michael was in. His narration was brilliant, moving, accessible and at points, funny.

LatinoBuzz: What do you hope this achieves for immigrants?

Mary: If the film can help shine a spotlight on the incredible, but overlooked talent and capability of immigrants and specifically those from low income zip-codes, people who are not out of central casting who look the part. Talent comes in many different sizes and shapes and for us, as a nation, to overlook this talent, it is… well, “un-American”.

LatinoBuzz: What do you think we can do as artists for the undocumented?

Mary: Wow, what a question. I think the reason that people are drawn to the film is because it humanizes the issue. The four young men were teenage boys, funny, each with his own distinctive personality and you come to root for them, to love them, in the film, and if this film can serve as a reminder that people from low income communities or people who don’t look “the part”, have incredible talent that can move this country forward. Then we all have won. As I mentioned before, making this film reminded me, yet again, how alike we all are!

The film starts a 100 city tour of free screenings around the country in partnership with AMC Theaters and NBCUniversal. It is also On Demand with most cable providers as well. Details are on

Written by Juan Caceres , LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow [At]LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook
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