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Hometown Hero Made a Film Inspired By Airplane Dumping Fuel Over Children In SELA, and Now Its Premiering at Sundance

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

Thompson-Hernandez is from Huntington Park and his childhood home is a few short miles from Park Avenue Elementary school in Cudahy, where multiple children were doused with chemical-enriched petroleum fuel from Delta Flight 89. 

The incident led him to reflect on the LAX flight path that so many children grow up under and the environmental racism that SELA has endured for decades. Walter tells L.A. TACO, “When that happened, I started writing a film, fictional, but based on real experiences that kind of help us understand what it means to live under the LAX flight path. This flight path, is interesting right, for a lot of us that grow up here we live right under it and we grow up looking up at the sky, we’re imaging these airplanes, we’re dreaming about them, and then the irony about the delta airline dropping jet fuel is that, the things that we yearn for and dream about and idolize can also hurt us.” 

Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Screenshot of 'If I Go, Will They Miss Me.' Photo courtesy of Walter Thompson-Hernandez.

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

When discussing his filmmaking style, he describes it as akin to “realism” mentioning that the cast is composed of first-time actors tasked to portray a version of their own lives. The trailer is available to watch on Thompson-Hernandez’s Instagram account. As the trailer of the film starts, the sound of jet engines roar, while a news broadcast can be heard detailing the jet fuel dump catastrophe. The audio serves as a backdrop to the sights of people gazing up at fireworks going off in the evening sky. Scenes of children smiling into the camera, a first-person view of a motorcycle being driven, and men running with their arms extended follow. The trailer ends with a boy drawing a pegasus, while the sounds of birds chirping are accompanied by white noise, seemingly from a nearby highway. 

“If I Go Will They Miss Me” premieres at Sundance Film Festival 2022 today, January 20th and is available to watch virtually at festival.sundance.org. Purchasing the ‘Explorer’ pass at $50 allows you to watch Walters film and other short films debuting at Sundance this year. It is valid from January 20th to February 10th.

Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez.

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