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This Adventure Called California

Logline: This Adventure Called California is a short documentary film about recently-divorced Arnoldo, who comes to the United States from Mexico to win back his family but meets only brutality and despair, until a chance encounter at a racquetball court changes the course of his life.

Arnoldo Lopez Contreras moves through the world as a tightly coiled spring, tense energy emanating even at rest. Emotions pour forth visually and verbally; despite his machismo, he cries. This Adventure Called California is a short documentary providing an intimate look into Arnoldo's life, both as a labor trafficking survivor and as a man seeking redemption.

Arnoldo was recruited in Tijuana to work in San Francisco. He hoped to remake himself and win back his estranged ex-wife and daughters. Instead, he finds himself working fifteen-plus hour days with little pay, no place to bathe, and little food. He reaches his lowest point when he is injured, forced to take shelter under a bridge, and contemplates suicide.

A lifelong athlete, Arnoldo turns to the gym, where a stranger who hears his story restores Arnoldo's hope and became his chosen family. Slowly, Arnoldo begins to rebuild his life and takes the first steps back to his family. But he knows that stability and reconciliation will require more work, and more time.
The film is a portrait of a complex man who is profoundly impacted, but not defined, by his trauma. And it's a call for protection of workers struggling to survive, even in the richest cities in the world.

  • Jennifer Huang
    Co-Producer and Writer: Standing on Sacred Ground, Co-Producer: From Baghdad to the Bay; Co-Producer: Hellfighters: Harlem's Heroes of World War I, Associate Producer: Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft
  • Arnoldo Lopez Contreras
    Key Cast
  • Jennifer Huang
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    22 minutes 9 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 16, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    30,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, Spanish
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • San Francisco Short Film Festival presented by SF IndieFest San Francisco Short Film Festival presented by SF IndieFest
    San Francisco
    United States
    September 17, 2021
    World Premiere
    Jury Award for Best Documentary
  • Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
    Sebastopol, CA
    United States
    March 26, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Cinequest Film Festival
    San Jose
    United States
  • Mammoth Lakes Film Festival
    Mammoth Lakes
    United States
    May 27, 2022
Director Biography - Jennifer Huang

As a Chinese American born in Dodge City, Kansas, I was bullied because of my heritage. This foundational experience of ostracism led to my lifelong commitment to justice. I believe that by immersing ourselves into the experiences of people who are disadvantaged, struggling, resourceful, and resilient, we can create social change.
After seventeen years working in documentary and television production, I am directing This Adventure Called California, my first short. I am also in production on The Long Rescue, my first feature-length documentary that chronicles the lives and critical choices of teen trafficking survivors in the Philippines as they become young women and mothers.
Previously, I co-produced From Baghdad to the Bay, following a gay Iraqi refugee in San Francisco, and Standing on Sacred Ground, a PBS-broadcasted series featuring indigenous people protecting their sacred sites. I associate-produced Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft, for American Masters. And at JAK Doc (a department of Lucasfilm) I wrote and produced Harlem’s Hellfighters: Black Soldiers of World War I and contributed to nine other short historical documentaries.
Other adventures as a writer, archival researcher, field producer and associate producer for Ace Content, PBS, Anonymous Content, the Travel Channel and HGTV include filming robotic open-heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic, crashing a snowmobile Aspen, camping on sacred sand dunes in Alberta and being detained in a shipping container in Papua New Guinea.

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Director Statement

Though it's impossible to know the real numbers, an estimated 20 million people around the world are victims of labor trafficking. We may think of children making bricks in India or fishermen on boats in Thailand, but they are also right here in the US: picking produce in our fields, washing dishes in our upscale restaurants, and in the case of Arnoldo Lopez Contreras, remodeling our downtown hotels.

In the end, Arnoldo ended up testifying against his trafficker, who was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. But Arnoldo still lives with the long term impacts of his experience – his shattered self esteem, damaged ties with his family, difficulty finding a stable home, steady work, or sense of belonging.

For six years I've been filming teen sex trafficking survivors in the Philippines, following their unpredictable lives working toward recovery. Doing research for that film, called The Long Rescue, I realized that labor trafficking doesn't garner the same attention, though it's impact on it's victims is also utterly devastating. So I embarked on this short film as part of the ReTake Oakland project of RePresent Media.

Although these are stories of people who have endured trauma and predation, they are also stories of the human drive to overcome adversity and find connection, meaning, and fulfillment. I am often astonished by Arnoldo's humor and resilience despite his daily hardships. I hope others will take inspiration from his story to work toward preventing worker exploitation in their own spheres of influence.

Jennifer Huang, Director