Tony & Janina‚Äôs American Wedding is a feature length documentary that gets to the heart of the broken, red tape ridden U.S. immigration system.¬†¬† After 18 years in America, Tony and Janina Wasilewski’s family is torn apart when Janina is deported back to Poland, taking their 6 year old son Brian with her. ¬†Set on the backdrop of the Chicago political scene, and featuring Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez at the heart of the immigration reform movement, this film follows the Wasilewski’s 3-year struggle to be reunited, as their Senator Barack Obama rises to the Presidency.¬†¬†With a fresh perspective on the immigration conversation, this film tells the untold human rights story of Post-9/11, that¬†every¬†undocumented immigrant in America faces today, with the power to open the conversation for change.
I met Tony and Janina Wasilewski on the worst day of their lives. Janina had just found out that her stay of deportation had been denied and she was going to have to leave her partner of 15 years within the next 48 hours.¬† Tony and Janina’s story had taken a hold of my heart and would not let go.¬† Why were these two people clinging to this country- even though their family was being torn apart?¬† I wanted to examine their adopted patriotism, that so many immigrants have for this country, that people like me take for granted.
I listened to stories from lifelong friends of Tony and Janina, who had also come to the US during Reagan’s Amnesty years.¬† As I stood outside their modest suburban Chicago home, in the shadow of every plane roaring in or out of O’Hare, I promised myself that I would stay with the family and continue to make a film that would help bring them back together. That would be the only thing to make it ‘worth it’ for the millions of others whose lives are being torn apart by our uncompassionate immigration system. Now, almost three years later, I have asked Tony numerous times and in different ways why he does not just follow Janina and Brian back to Poland. The answer is complex for Tony. It has to do with honor, and fighting for one’s country and self, and not to be broken or defeated. These are the gifts he desires to give his family, so that his wife and his son will be able to reap the benefits from all his years of building an American Dream from the ground up.
As an American, born into a country that has enticed so many to come, without the proper system in place to accommodate them, it is my duty to help Tony, Janina and Brian recapture the American Dream that belongs to them.¬† As the immigration reform movement becomes more galvanized after so many failed attempts, I know the Wasilewski‚Äôs story is more timely than ever. Quite simply, their story has the power to move the more conservative leaning on this issue. I think this film shows my purest intention of breaking down stereotypes and opening the conversation about the human rights violations that the undocumented suffers inside our borders.
Ruth Leitman 2010
Written, Produced & Directed by
Director of Photography
Jacek Taszakowski, Magda Mosiewicz
Dana Kupper, Miguel Mendez, Enmanuel Morales, Charlie Garcia, Nick Nummerdor, Steven Greenstreet, Arthur Rhodes, Kali Heitholt
Ruth Leitman & Leslie Simmer
Amy Cargill, Matt Lauterbach, Hannah David
Music Composed by
Post Production Sound
Ruth Leitman (Director/Producer) – Leitman has directed 5 feature length documentary films.¬† She received a Rockefeller Fellowship for Alma (1998), which also received the Documentary Feature Jury Prize winner at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and was selected to screen at the Director‚Äôs Guild of America NYC and the Whitney Biennial 2000.¬† Alma aired on TV Ontario and Channel Four Finland.¬† Her recent film Lipstick & Dynamite (2005) premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival and screened at several other festivals, including the Nantucket Film Festival, where it won the Best Documentary Storytelling award.¬† The film was featured on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, and Leitman was a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross”.¬† Lipstick & Dynamite was released theatrically by Koch Lorber Films and is currently airing on SHOWTIME.¬† She has directed media campaigns for several political candidates including Harry Mitchell D- AZ, helping to defeat longstanding incumbent J.D. Hayworth in 2006.¬† Leitman teaches documentary filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at Columbia College Chicago.
Our deepest gratitude to the following organizations:
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
Reform Immigration for America
Center for Community Change, Washington, DC
Polish Initiative Chicago
Albany Park Neighborhood Association
Archdiocese of Chicago
Las Americas United Methodist Church
Latin American Coalition
Northwest Neighborhood Federation
Polish Museum of America
The Copernicus Foundation, Chicago, IL
The Resurrection Project, Chicago, IL
The film was funded in part by:
The TriBeCa Film Institute-Audience Development Grant, The Fledgling Fund, The Chicago Instructional Technology Foundation, The Illinois Humanities Council and The Illinois Arts Council.