Building the American Dream

Austin, Texas | Film Feature


Chelsea Hernandez

1 Campaigns | Texas, United States

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This campaign raised $14,054 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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In a state with little regulation and a booming economy, undocumented immigrants make up half of the million construction workers in Texas. They face exploitations on the job and lack proper safety training. When a new building fills in the skyline, we must ask ourselves, at what cost?

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

The Story


Although deemed the “Texas Miracle,” with a recession-proof economic plan that many U.S. states look to duplicate, a treacherous dark side looms over the construction industry. Building the American Dream uncovers the story of the virtually invisible undocumented construction workers upon whose backs and hard labor the boom is built. We follow the intimate journey of several undocumented immigrants – struggling to survive while also striving to organize through a unique organization called Workers Defense Project (WDP).


Building the American Dream is a timely story of economic boom in a climate of anti-immigration rhetoric. This film shines a light on the faces of the forgotten — the builders of our schools, our homes, our work and our communities. As the film's main characters struggle with the rising costs of living, pay stagnation and employer's intent on making huge profits at their expense — with little regard for their safety, health or security — we wonder if they'll ever achieve the American Dream. Can they carve out a stable world? And will the improvements the seek for construction workers begin to take root?



We started following our main characters in February 2015. With little funds, we continued through production, but only part-time. Fortunately, we had the gracious support of the Ford Foundation in the fall in which we were able to film in Mexico and Washington, DC.


We are awaiting potential funds from grants, but will not be notified until the fall. Therefore, we need your help to get us through the end of production this summer, in July and August.


With an election year upon us, this story is extremely timely and needs to be shared. Our goal is to finish the film this year in order to premiere in the Spring of 2017.




This project was rewarded early financial support from the Ford Foundation and the Institute of International Education in order to cover travel costs for key scenes of the film. With their generous support we were able to travel to Mexico to film Cristina Tzintzun as she visited family and reflected on her leadership. We also traveled to Dallas, Texas where we captured tense scenes of disagreement and uncertainty as Dallas workers fought for a mandatory rest break in one of the biggest cities in the country. We also followed Cristina as she attended the first White House Worker Summit where President Obama opened with remarks of the labor industry.



Building the American Dream is also an Austin Film Society grant recipient. We were awarded $2,500 in 2014. These funds were benefitial in getting the project off the ground and into the hands of potential grantmakers like the Ford Foundation.



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Costs $3,450

Wage is important to us! It's important to pay the cinematographers for their hard work in capturing an important story.


Costs $2,400

Sound person with gear


Costs $2,700

We need to sleep somewhere when we travel!


Costs $2,150

Airfare and ground transportation


Costs $1,000

Gear rental like lighting equipment, drones, movi, etc.


Costs $1,300

Transcription and translations service


Costs $2,000

We need to begin assembling scenes and the assistant editor will begin that process.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

CHELSEA HERNANDEZ – Director, Producer

Chelsea Hernandez is a 6-time Emmy winning Director, Producer and Editor in the Lone Star Region, picking up four statues in November of 2015. These awards acknowledged her work on Arts In Context, a documentary series produced by KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. Chelsea has directed and produced various feature and short documentaries including See the Dirt, the Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Austin Film Festival. The film creened at multiple fests across the country and at the Edinburgh Int'l Film Festival in Scotland. She co-produced feature-length documentary The Road to Livingston, which was digitally distributed by FilmRise. Chelsea worked under prolific documentary directors Hector Galan (Children of Giant), Ellen Spiro (Body of War) and Nancy Schiesari (Tattooed Under Fire). Chelsea was Associate Producer and Assistant Editor for national PBS specials NOW ON PBS: Fixing the Future, hosted by NPR Marketplace host David Brancaccio and Ancient Roads from Christ to Constantine, a 6-part hourly historical series. Building the American Dream is her directorial debut.



Marisol is a producer that enjoys partnering with filmmakers that have a unique voice and style. Born in Mexico City and a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin, she has produced projects that closely relate to the filmmakers’ cultural diversity and personal interest. Marisol was associate producer for the Student Academy Award Winner "Fatakra" in 2011. She partnered with Amanda Glaser and her documentary, "Hearts and Hooves," winner of the AOL Filmathropy Project Scholarship. She has also participated in various short films, such as "Borderland," recently selected for the Tampere Film Festival and San Diego Latino Film Festival.



Emmy award-winning filmmaker Mario Troncoso is the Producer and Director of the documentary series "Arts In Context," produced at KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. Born in Madrid, Spain, he is now based in Austin where he works as a producer for KLRU. With extensive agency and production company experience, Mario has worked on productions across many formats over a period of 10 years ranging from advertising to documentaries and fiction. His film "Clowns Never Lie" has screened at festivals and showcases across the U.S. and Europe and was picked up for international TV distribution at Festival de Cannes 2012. Mario studied Film Production and Latino Media Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


SARAH GARRAHAN - Assistant Editor

Sarah Garrahan is a documentary filmmaker and editor from San Antonio, Texas. She holds an MA in Creative Documentary from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and an MFA from Duke University in the Experimental and Documentary Arts. Her work focuses on the working class, family, the everyday and ways of knowing. Her editing work has been broadcast internationally, including PBS in the US and TV3 in Spain. She was a 2013 Flaherty Film Fellow and a 2015 Felsman Documentary Fellow.



Santiago is an award-winning filmmaker in Mexico with over ten years of producing experience. He studied film production at the CCC film school (Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica). Many of his films have screened around the world including the Morelia, Guanajuato and Havana Film Festivals. He is the co-founder and representative of the Michoacan Film Commission.



Nathan Felix is a self-taught, Mexican-American, composer for film and orchestra based in Austin, Texas. He began as the composer for 13-piece indie-orchestra, The Noise Revival Orchestra. His music has been featured on the BBC, MTV, PBS, NFL, NPR and various other national and international publications. His symphonies have been performed in the USA, Denmark, Portugal, Bulgaria and Mongolia. In 2016, Felix was featured on PBS for work on his 6-Piano project in which he restored six pianos for a concert featuring two new pieces. After the concert, Felix donated the pianos to schools in lower income neighborhoods in Austin.






Erik Mauck began his career in media as a writer for a daily newspaper in central New Hampshire, before going back to school to study filmmaking. He moved to Austin in 2004 and began producing short documentaries covering the independent film community, which led to a feature film titled Zombie Girl: The Movie. His film premiered at Fantastic Fest and Slamdance Film Festival, later being distributed on Netflix and iTunes. His second documentary The Road to Livingston screened at numerous film festivals and was distributed by Film Rise. Most recently, he worked as a camera operator for Hector Galan's national PBS film Children of Giant. Erik works as a freelance camera operator and editor in Texas.



Juan A. Izaguirre is an Austin-based filmmaker that works in both the narrative and documentary realms of filmmaking. His recent projects as cinematographer include KLRU’s Lone Star Emmy Award-winning arts documentary series, Arts in Context, and as both director and cinematographer for the human rights documentary, Para Vivir, and black comedy, Midnight Lovin’. Juan’s work as director and cinematographer focuses on identity and its intersections with ethnicity, sexuality, and gender norms within our communities.



Ivete Lucas was born in Brazil and started her filmmaking career in Mexico. At age 23 her first short film ASMA was shortlisted for the Mexican Academy Awards and released nationally in select movie theaters. Since then she has written and directed award winning short films and documentaries, which have screened in festivals, museums and on PBS. She holds an MFA in Film Production from the University of Texas at Austin. Her latest short film THE SEND-OFF premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2016.



E.J. Enriquez’s work encompasses a variety of genres and formats, giving him unique perspective in the craft of cinematography. His experiences behind the camera range from commercial fashion spots, international feature documentaries as well as narrative shorts and features that have screened around the world including Sundance, Berlinale, LAFF, SXSW and IFFBoston among others.




Jeffrey is a traveling documentary cinematographer, director, and producer; currently making short environmental documentaries with Texas Parks and Wildlife.  He has also worked on the Emmy-winning series "Arts in Context" on PBS, and the 2016 documentary feature "The Pathological Optimist" about the controversial figure Andrew Wakefield, along with other various feature films and TV series. A native Texan originally from Houston, Jeffrey earned his bachelor's degree in photography and filmmaking at American University in Washington, DC, the home to the Center for Environmental Filmmaking and the Center for Media & Social Impact.





As one of the most prolific documentary filmmakers working today, Hector Galán has contributed over forty hours of programming to major television series such as PBS Frontline and American Experience, and to cable networks, and PBS primetime. Most recently, Galán premiered on PBS "Children of GIANT," a documentary feature set in the West Texas town of Marfa, that explores social issues throughout history, weaving a scenic exploration of the Academy Award winning film, George Stevens’ Giant. Galán is a founding board member of the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and has served as a mentor of the CPB Producer’s Academy, NALIP Producers Academy and on the PBS Content Committee. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America West and is also a frequent guest lecturer and keynote speaker at universities and national conferences throughout the country.



Ellen Spiro is a Guggenheim fellow and Emmy Award winning filmmaker who has created innovative and socially engaged documentaries for over two decades. She is a two-time Rockefeller fellow, National Endowment for the Arts fellow and winner of The Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television's Gracie Award for both Outstanding Director and Outstanding Documentary (Troop 1500 - with Karen Bernstein). Her film, "Body of War," collaboration with Phil Donahue, won Best Documentary from the prestigious National Board of Review and was short-listed for an Oscar nomination.



Attorney Dawn Salas specializes in business immigration law. Salas has over 10 years of significant experience in assisting international businesses in managing and better understanding international assignments, as well as the employment of professionals on both a temporary and permanent basis in the United States. Salas has also successfully assisted numerous clients in obtaining permanent residency based on sponsorship by qualifying family members. She graduated with her J.D. from St. John's School of Law in New York in 2002.

Current Team