WASHINGTON (AP) – The new documentary "Underwater Dreams" follows four teenage boys living in Arizona as they build an underwater robot for a major science competition.
On its surface, the story seems unremarkable. But their parents are Mexicans who are living in the United States illegally, and their high school is plagued by gangs and poverty.
American documentary maker Mary Mazzio said she set out to show just what the children of Hispanic immigrants can accomplish, especially if the U.S. Congress passes immigration reform eliminating obstacles for them to attend college, and to work.
"You have four kids that come from nothing, and look what they did," Mazzio said in a recent telephone interview. "There are millions of kids like them. All they need is a little bit of opportunity to flourish."
Narrated in English by actor Michael Pena, "Underwater Dreams" shows how two science teachers decided to enter the Phoenix high school in the robot competition organized by NASA by 2004, and the kids went on to beat teams from several prestigious universities, including MIT.
"Underwater Dreams" screens Friday at commercial movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and the AMC movie chain has promised 100 free showings to community groups around the country.
Telemundo, MSNBC and Mun2 will also simultaneously transmit a 44-minute version of the documentary in the United States at 1 p.m. EDT on July 20.
Although three of the four youths have not attended college in the U.S. because of their migratory situation, the film shows how high school students with limited opportunities can succeed if given the chance.
The showing of the documentary, Mazzio's eighth, comes several weeks after the Republican majority in the House of Representatives announced it would not vote this year for immigration reform legislation earlier approved by the Senate.
""Will the film change anything? Absolutely not, but if we can open one disbeliever's eyes on the magnitude of opportunities for these children, then we can start changing hearts and minds," she said.
Mazzio said her film also promotes the importance of careers in science and technology for Hispanics.
The filmmaker said she decided to look deeper at the Hispanic experience in the U.S. following the success for her 2011 documentary "The Apple Pushers," about immigrant street vendors selling fresh fruit from carts in New York neighborhoods suffering from obesity.