Hometown Hero made a film inspired by the spilling of fuel from a plane on children at SELA, and now its premiere at Sundance

On January 14, 2020, Delta Flight 89 unloaded jet fuel during an emergency landing procedure. The fuel dump rained down on school children in Southeast Los Angeles. “If I Go WIll They Miss Me,” written and directed by Walter Thompson-Hernandez, premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival today, is inspired by that event.

Thompson-Hernandez is from Huntington Park and her childhood home is a few miles from Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, where several children were sprayed with chemically-enriched petroleum fuel from Delta Flight 89.

The incident caused him to reflect on the LAX flight path under which so many children grow up and the environmental racism that SELA has endured for decades. Walter tells LA TACO, “When it happened, I started writing a movie, fictional, but based on real-life experiences that help us understand what it’s like to live under the LAX flight path. That flight path is interesting, for many of us growing up here, we live just below and we grow up looking at the sky, we imagine these planes, we dream about them, and then the irony about the delta airline dropping jet fuel , is that the things we aspire to, dream about and idolize can also hurt us.

Screenshot of “If I leave, will they miss me”. Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of
Screenshot of “If I leave, will they miss me”. Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of
Screenshot of “If I leave, will they miss me”. Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.

In one video with the Sundance Institute, Thompson-Hernandez further explains that the film is “a meditation on dreaming and attempting to exist in worlds outside our own”. The film follows “Lil Ant”, a 12-year-old boy from the Imperial Courts projects and his desire to fly. In Lil Ant’s world, the Greek mythological character Pegasus, is a real creature and he also sees mysterious planes, as Thompson-Hernandez describes.

When discussing his cinematic style, he describes it as akin to “realism” mentioning that the cast is made up of first-time actors tasked with portraying a version of their own lives. The trailer is available to watch on Thompson-Hernandez Instagram account. As the film’s trailer begins, the sound of jet engines roars, while a news broadcast can be heard detailing the jet fuel dump disaster. The audio serves as a backdrop to the views of people watching the fireworks go off in the evening sky. Scenes of children smiling at the camera, a first-person view of a motorbike being driven, and men running with outstretched arms follow. The trailer ends with a boy drawing a pegasus, while birdsong is accompanied by white noise, apparently from a nearby highway.

“If I Go Will They Miss Me” will premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival today, January 20, and can be viewed virtually on festival.sundance.org. Purchasing the $50 ‘Explorer’ pass gets you to watch Walters’ film and other shorts debuting at Sundance this year. It is valid from January 20 to February 10.

Walter Thompson-Hernández.
Walter Thompson-Hernández.

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