Review: Split at the Root | SXSW 2022

Score: B

Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton

Running Time: 100 min

Rated: NR

America has certainly seen its share of horrors in the last few years. But wherever there’s disaster or peril, there’s usually an equal wave of kindness that follows. Split at the Root is a quiet encapsulation of this tenet, a visual retelling of how the nonprofit Immigrant Families Together was founded after the Trump administration started separating children from their parents at the border. By focusing on one organization and a couple of the women they helped, the documentary tells a touching, small story about the ripple effect of kindness.

Split at the Root tells its story primarily through talking-head interviews, cell phone footage, and footage obtained observing their subjects in their homes. This begins in the home of Julie Schweitert Collazo and Francisco Collazo, the co-founders of Immigrant Families Together. The couple only wanted to help mothers who’d been separated from their children at the border. They couldn’t have imagined it would lead to establishing a full nonprofit organization. This effort started with helping Yeni Gonzalez, a woman detained in Arizona while her kids were sent to New York. After paying her bail, they helped organize a caravan to get her to New York City. Their GoFundMe raised so much money that they not only kept helping Yeni find a place to live, but they began helping other women, too. Women like Rosayra Pablo Cruz, who fled Guatemala with her two sons, one of which was being recruited into the cartels, and was separated from them at the border. 

By focusing on a small organization and two women it has helped, the documentary paints a clear picture of a small piece of the puzzle. There’s certainly nothing flashy or slick about this film. The name titles for interview subjects could be more pronounced, left on screen longer, but its rough-around-the-edges demeanor matches the organization it follows. Both seem a bit assembled-in-a-hurry, with enough heart to make up the difference. 

You can’t help but feel for these women seeking asylum, enduring dangerous journeys only to arrive at the border, placed in deplorable conditions, and separated from their children. Then, once they’re eventually reunited, this family must somehow deal with that trauma while trying to win their asylum case and set up a stable life for themselves in a foreign country. It’s a lot to ask of anyone and more proof that these women truly felt there was no other option than to leave Guatemala. It’s up to organizations like Immigrant Families Together, leading with absolute kindness in providing these families with shelter, food, legal help, and emotional support in a city where they may not know anyone. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see that kindness ripple out when Rosayra, or Rosy, and her eldest son offer to help out other women and their kids as emotional support for going through a process they’ve already navigated.

For all the good that IFT does, it’s equally important that they themselves note that as an organization composed of and funded by mostly white women, they’re doing work that people of color have been organizing around and lobbying for decades. And while it’s great that they recognize they don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room they just walked into, they’re still getting a documentary at SXSW for their work. Can RAICES say the same?

Split at the Root is very much a conventional documentary. There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering or impressive about it. But as quiet as it is, it still has a powerful message about a group of people coming to the aid of those in need. In what seems like unending unprecedented times, we could all use a reminder about the importance of staying kind and open to those striving for a better life.


About Katie Anaya

Katie Anaya