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‘I’m New’: Award-winning filmmaker reflects on his experience as an ESL student in Texas

A young man handles filmmaking equipment. He's holding up the camera and gazing up at an external appendage. This is Malon Rubio Smith.
Courtesy of Marlon Rubio Smith
UT student Marlon Rubio Smith moved from Mexico City to Houston in 2015 and found a safe haven in watching movies — action, adventure and especially films about superheroes.

When Marlon Rubio Smith moved from Mexico City to Houston in 2015, he found a safe haven in watching movies — action, adventure and especially films about superheroes.

While Smith was learning a new culture and language, he also had to navigate being the new kid in an American public school. Since Spanish was Smith’s first language, he was also in the English as a Second Language program at his school.

Now, Smith is a radio-television-film major at UT-Austin and recently won Best Student Short Film for writing and directing “I’m New,” a short film that follows a Hispanic immigrant on their first day of school in the United States.

The idea for “I’m New” comes from Smith’s own coming-of-age experience in high school, with additional social and political layers that he said he felt were amplified in a school setting.

“I really wanted it to be said during the Trump administration because that brought a lot of tension, a lot of uncertainty to like a lot of undocumented immigrants,” Smith said.

Through the film, you see the main character encountering challenges such as trying to make new friends, navigating a class schedule and new insecurities that come with being in a new environment — like having an accent.

“One of the things that I’m kind of like most self aware of is my accent. You know, people notice whenever you’re speaking to them they’re like ‘oh you’re not from here.’ So that’s something that really kind of like, you know, has been chasing me for all of these years,” Smith said.

Smith was awarded Best Student Short Film in the 2023 Hispanic Film Festival on Feb. 4.

“It does feel good, you know, that my work has been validated and everything. But it all goes down to the story that we’re trying to tell, highlighting this certain subgroup that is the ESL community and just honoring the immigrant experience,” Smith said.

Listen to more from Marlon Rubio Smith and his film in the audio player above.

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