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OLLU student goes "From Homeless to Filmmaker"

From Ken Rodriguez's blog 'Light from the Lake' on MySA.com.

Life has thrown so much adversity at Jaime Sanchez it’s a wonder he’s alive. At birth, his head swelled and cracked from excessive fluid in the brain, a condition known as “hydrocephalus,” he underwent emergency surgery.

Doctors gave his mother grim news: Her baby would never be able to walk. He would be confined to a wheelchair. Their prognosis was wrong. “I’m a miracle child,” says Sanchez, an able-bodied, 28-year-old sophomore film major at Our Lady of the Lake University.

“Today, he lives with a cerebral shunt — a pump attached to a catheter — that drains fluid from his head — and walks.: “Without it,” he says, “My head would expand and I wouldn’t be here.”

Sanchez grew up with a learning disability in an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. He spent his youth as an outcast. From first grade through 12th, he took special education classes. Some kids called him “retard.” Others dismissed him as “loser.”

Today, he’s an award-winning filmmaker with a story that would make a good movie. Sanchez spent much of last fall and part of the spring homeless while pursuing a college degree. He slept in buildings and in the backseat of a car that belonged to his ex-wife. Some evenings he walked the streets, looking for a place to crash.

“I did a lot of couch surfing,” he says. “It was hard to maintain my grades. My GPA is not the greatest. I made it a goal to graduate from The Lake. I want to be a role model.”

Sanchez began making films almost five years ago. At San Antonio College (SAC), he produced a silent project that was screened at the San Antonio Film Festival. At OLLU, he won first place in the San Antonio Neighborhood Film Project student category for directing the music video, “Dia de los Muertos.”


Other awards followed. His reputation grows.

“He’s one of our most talented students,” says Antoinette Winstead, OLLU professor of Digital Film and TV production. “He’s one of those amazing people with an amazing story that shows no matter what adversity you go through, you can survive it.”

How did he get here? After graduating from high school in Chicago, a counselor recommended he  travel to San Antonio and serve at AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs. While tutoring children and helping them produce slide shows, Sanchez made a discovery. As he stayed up late, working with his camera night after night, he thought, “Maybe this is something I should pursue.”

Sanchez started his first film project in 2007. A passion ignited and drove him to push through academic challenges at SAC without the aid of a tutor. He could have used help in math — his weakest subject — but after a lifetime of hearing what he couldn’t do, Sanchez insisted on studying alone.  “It’s been my choice to prove other people wrong,“ he says.

After transferring to OLLU, Sanchez struggled. He had no housing, a broken marriage and child support payments. He also had a camera, a dream and a persevering spirit.

One friend offered him a place to stay. Others gave him food. Sanchez settled in, hit the books, and resumed working magic with his camera. He continued another passion as well. Sanchez helped autistic children produce videos at a local Jewish Community Center. “I taught them what I learned at SAC and what I’ve learned so far at The Lake.”

One compelling frame at a time, Sanchez is living out a dream that could be a documentary. He’d rather film his own documentary about the late Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America. Why?

Sanchez sees a little of himself in Chavez: low-income, hardworking, discriminated Hispanic, battling big odds. “When God calls me up,” Sanchez says, “I want people to know who I am, what I’ve been through and how hard it’s been.”