Alumna films documentary on housekeeper turned councilwoman

UM alumna Margo Guernsey documented the story of Carmen Castillo, a Rhode Island councilwoman who cleans hotel rooms for a living. Castillo is the only elected government official who is also a housekeeper.

“There are tons of American Dream stories where people come from nothing and become something,” Guernsey said. “But we do not have stories where people come from nothing, come into power and are still working their manual labor job.”

Guernsey filmed the project a year after earning her master of fine arts degree at UM. She is helping fund the film using Kickstarter.com.

Guernsey, originally from Massachusetts, lived in Miami for five years. She has worked as a producer of educational videos for pre-kindergarten teachers at WPBT2 and produced The Bonus Army, a documentary that has won multiple awards, including the award for Best Producing at the Canes Film Festival.

Guernsey’s film project began shortly after Castillo was elected in December 2011. Castillo was elected into the ninth ward of the Providence, Rhode Island City Council in December 2011, following a special election after the unexpected death of Councilman Miguel Luna. It was Castillo’s first government position.

“Every city is different, but in Providence, and she will tell you this, the city council is a full-time job for less than part-time pay,” Guernsey said.

The film will also follow Castillo through her re-election campaign in 2014. Guernsey hopes the film will be completed by early 2016.

Guernsey and Castillo met more than 12 years ago when Guernsey was working for the union that represented Castillo. The two friends kept in contact and reconnected at a baby shower during Castillo’s election.

Castillo’s story began when she immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic more than two decades ago. She first found employment at a local Providence factory before settling into her housekeeping position, a job that has allowed her to support herself and her three daughters for more than 19 years.

Despite her political life, Castillo still clocks in and out on a regular basis at the same hotel.

“People don’t always understand. Just because she is a politician, she is not rich,” Guernsey said.

Guernsey said that, not only do most politicians have college educations and follow a specific path, but they also have flexible schedules.

“They will usually be businesspeople or lawyers, have an office with a staff answering phones. Carmen can’t answer the phone while she is at work,” she said. “It is a whole different ballgame for her in terms of managing her city council job.”

The film will feature other people in Castillo’s community that are fighting for justice as well.

“Nobody makes something happen by themselves,” Guernsey said. “That is just not how the world works, so I want to make the film true to that fact.”

Guernsey does not intend for the film to be just an inspirational story.

“It is to engage people, get them to start thinking outside the box for solutions,” she said.

The film’s Kickstarter link is kickstarter.com/projects/724829692/councilwoman-castillo.

July 11, 2013


Nicole Webster

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