MISSOULA – Documenting the lives of Mexicans impacted by immigration and teaching her subjects how to tell their own stories is a project University of Montana alumna and filmmaker Alyson Spery knows intimately.
The latest UM grad to win a Fulbright Scholarship, Spery will take her passion to three rural communities in Tlaxcala, Mexico, to share “a more nuanced and authentic story about the impacts of immigration.” While there, she will complete her docuseries “Sister Cities” and show first-time filmmakers how to direct their own short documentaries in community classes.
Spery studied public policy and philosophy at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and earned her Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts at UM in 2019. Raised in Salisbury, Maryland, she has lived in Montana and Wyoming for more than 15 years.
“Sister Cities” began in Jackson, Wyoming, where Spery taught filmmaking to first- and second-generation Mexican Americans, encouraging them to share their stories, passions and fears. Many immigrants to Jackson Hole come from Tlaxcala.
“The films made in Mexico will add to the collection of films shot and directed by my students in Jackson,” Spery said. “I will pass the camera (and therefore the control of the narrative) to those who have lived it.”
Spery said she is surprised and thrilled that the Fulbright Committee, a branch of the U.S. State Department, has invested in a contentious subject like immigration.
“This is not just monumental for me, but for the people whose lives are at the mercy of border relations between the U.S. and Mexico,” she said. “This opportunity demonstrates an interest in the experience of immigrants and the communities forever changed by those who emigrated.”
Last year, Spery founded the nonprofit film production and educational organization, DIY Docs, to create more community media, and she hopes “Sister Cities” is just the beginning of documenting communities around the world.
“I feel so honored to be entrusted with the support of both communities in Jackson and Tlaxcala and for people’s willingness to collaborate on this project,” she said.
Spery joins five other UM grads and students in receiving a 2020-21 Fulbright Scholarship. The recipients continue UM’s legacy of securing large numbers of Fulbright Scholars, said Clint Walker, UM Fulbright adviser and associate professor of Russian.
“We had a 50% success rate this year,” Walker said. “This percentage is well above the national average and speaks to the high quality of our UM applicants for Fulbrights.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. For more information, visit https://us.fulbrightonline.org/.
Due to COVID-19, Spery will embark on her Fulbright adventure in January 2021 instead of this August as originally planned.