EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Where are the women filmmakers of the borderland? Geographically, the answer is: El Paso, Juarez and Las Cruces. But the point of the story is not limited to such one-dimensional perspective. Women filmmakers are nowhere to be seen – at least in the science fiction realm – according to some of those trying to help them succeed. Seemingly, their destiny has been unmistakably similar to that of females in cinema, as a whole: relegated to the obscure corners of the production panorama, suggests Angie Razatures, Executive Director of Femme Frontera.
“Women filmmakers, most especially Latinas are not receiving a lot of the resources and support that traditionally, calling it what it is, white males, receive. There have been studies and reports that have come out. We average 5 to 6% as Latina people that receive resources for filmmaking in general and this is just to tell our own stories. We are very keen in supporting women and non-binary filmmakers from our region,” Razatures explains.
Since 2016, over one hundred women filmmakers from the borderland have been helped by Femme Frontera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting documentary films which can tell the stories of women at the border. “One of the most detrimental things to people who live in border communities, people like LatinE, people of color who would like to tell their stories is that, again, we are not just sufficiently resourced to tell our own stories. What happens is that a lot of people who are not familiar with our experience tell the stories for us,” says Razatures.
But the fate of women filmmakers in the borderland is only a partial exhibit how dim their representation is in the big leagues of cinema. According to the 24th annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report only 12 percent of directors of 2021’s top 100 films were women. That showed a decrease of 4% compared to 2020. The report, compiled and published by San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, concluded 61% of films produced in 2021 “employed no more than four women in these positions (writing, editing, cinematographers), whereas 72 percent of the movies had at least 10 men in the jobs.”
Those statistics are significant compared to the fortune of women filmmakers in the borderland – where many of them, according to Razatures, have actually never had experience with the art form. The short films (documentary format) that are made by women and supported by organizations like Femme Frontera, can only count with $15,000 dollars maximum, plus $6,000 in services. “We’ve been very fortunate to not only reach out to filmmakers who are already currently working in our region of El Paso, Las Cruces, and Juarez but also provide an additional base of support by providing funding. So we provide grants for screenwriting and for filmmaking and we also provide a lab,” explained Razatures.
So if border women have a story to tell, what is it? Femme Frontera believes there is a wide compass with which to measure such enigma. However, the one subject that resonates with borderland filmmakers is displacement. “The films that are being told are very raw; they’re very vulnerable, extremely powerful and moving. Vulnerability and courageousness are (the themes) that ring the loudest,” explains Razatures. The organization, originally founded as a film festival, not only tells the stories of displacement at the border, but takes into account and exhibits similar experiences by women in other border communities – like Syria.
So, what is displacement? The following is an excerpt from the World Bank, explaining such phenomenon – which is told and retold not only by women filmmakers at the border but also from experts in the immigration field.
During displacement, families are often separated, assets and livelihoods are lost or disrupted, and language barriers, legal constraints and discrimination may arise. The nature of these impacts, and barriers and opportunities, may well differ between women and men. But development policies and programs are often designed without taking these gendered factors and differences into account, and also often fail to monitor how outcomes and impacts vary between men and women, girls and boys.
“The truth about the displacement of women, not only at the border but worldwide, is that too often they are left as single mothers in their place of origin. What drives them to run from their countries? Misery, the economic factor is always number one” says Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor and Columnist at America’s Voice. She adds: “The irony, perhaps, is that we have heard their plea since the 1980’s; and, by the same token, since then we have heard a similar status quo response from politicians.” Hastings tells KTSM that it would not be unusual to see the issue of displacement be at the forefront of women’s themes in cinema or anywhere else.
On the local film scenario, the El Paso Film Commission and Creative Industries Commission reiterates that for women’s experiences to be told, women have to be in the pool. “At this time, no, none of the women that I’ve worked with are creating narrative content – it’s primarily in the documentary space,” says Drew Mayer-Oakes, head of the Commission. “You mentioned Femme Frontera, and they are an important part of our film community not only as a venue for filmmakers to screen their films but also get some of the grant programs that they have and the educational programming that they have. So our office is developing a multi-year strategic plan to support local filmmaking.”
Women filmmakers in El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces are, indeed, present; albeit not in popular streaming services or the marquees of large theaters. Their stories intersect with a reality perhaps too harsh to develop into the typical seduction screenplay. At a point in time when immigration is one of the most delicate issues on the international panorama, some believe the plight of women filmmakers in the borderland becomes critical. They present a reality perhaps too faint for politicians to see; one that allows people in power to make better decisions, and a citizenship to develop empathy towards those who suffer.