Mike Shiley Filmmaker
“I’m the most successful filmmaker in Oregon,” Mike Shiley says, running a hand over his close-cropped head of gray hair. “I’ve made a million dollars off three films. Gus Van Sant is successful, too, but he’s a Hollywood director who just happens to live here.” In just three sentences, Shiley, a documentarian with equal parts guts and guile, has managed to both take down one of Portland’s most sacred cows and question what exactly constitutes a homegrown artist. These are interesting points, and they’re delivered with bravado—exactly the kind of headfirst approach Shiley uses in his films. Whether he’s sneaking into a war zone with a fake press pass to slog through the desert alongside U.S. soldiers for Inside Iraq (2004)—the jacket he wore while embedded with the American troops is pictured above—or wading through the streets of New Orleans with an animal rescue team after Hurricane Katrina in Dark Water Rising (2006), Shiley’s identity as troublemaker and truth-teller is always on display.
His latest film, Solving Immigration, out this fall, is the 41-year-old’s risky foray to the front lines of a hot-button topic. Shiley spent one grueling month roaming between San Diego and Tijuana, exploring both sides of the immigration issue: the volunteer border guards who make up the Minutemen on the American side; a Catholic relief organization on the Mexican side. “I wanted to talk to the amateurs,” Shiley says, “the people who are the most passionately committed to this cause.”
Like Shiley’s other films, Solving Immigration came with a high level of personal risk. “The business of getting illegals into the U.S. is controlled by the Mexican mafia,” he says, seeming to revel in the danger. “Those guys wouldn’t think twice about taking some gringo with a camera out into the desert and making him disappear.” As he says this, there might as well be a smile on his face. —JC