When the Mexican filmmaker Ana Cruz Navarro decided to make a movie about the ongoing suffrage movement in Mexico, she had people tell her the story would be “boring”. Nevertheless, Navarro didn’t give up on the idea.
Then, she came across the story of Eufrosina Cruz, an indigenous woman from the state of Oaxaca, who was first denied office in 2007 during the municipal elections of Santa Maria Quiegolani. The city is governed by an ancestral system known as usos y costumbres (traditions and customs), prohibiting any woman from being in a position to make political or administrative decisions.
Navarro’s documentary on the battle for women’s rights in Mexico focusses on Cruz’s story.
About the film, Navarro said:
“For me, it was something wonderful […] to bring to the present all this history of struggling and fighting for the rights of women.”
The film is titled Las Sufragistas (The Suffragists) and was officially released back in 2013. But as part of the event Women’s Voices in the Americas, the film was front and center once again with a special screening that ran on July 4 at UBC Robson Square. Another notable film that was screened along with Las Sufragistas was Bone Wind Fire written and directed by Canadian filmmaker, Jill Sharpe.
The two filmmakers, along with Canadian actress, Marily Norry, elaborated on their work in the film industry and how they saw the role of women impacting the dynamics of the industry in a panel discussion.
Female Role Models In Film
Moderated by Vancouver-based Brazilian filmmaker, Fernanda Friedrich, the three women shared their differing views on what it was like starting their careers in film.
Navarro acknowledged that the women in her generation made particularly important contributions to the Mexican film industry. This was one of the reasons why she and her community of peers in the industry created the association of Mexican Women in Film and Television 18 years ago.
“At that time, we were 15 women directors in Mexico […] and now you can see that there are hundreds of girls being directors and writers, and they have their own films and their own voices,” Navarro said.
Norry also spoke on the community of peers around her in the Canadian film industry but felt there was a clear lack of role models.
“I remember when I was in my 20s and I was looking for women in their 50s and 60s, and every woman that I could see was angry, bitter or invisible. So, there was not much to go forward to,” she said and later adding, “I wanted to know how to grow older and be happy, how to have a life and a voice and still be present in society, and I couldn’t see examples of that – except for famous people who were far away on television.”
Norry would come to start her own project dubbed My Mother’s Story in 2004 to address the lack of female role models in film. Norry started by asking her friends to write facts about their mothers’ lives in 2,000 words or less. The result was astonishing.
“I was assuming that all of my friends had mothers that were like mine, and that […] there might be one or two stories that were different, that would give me inspiration. And I was very wrong thankfully. Every single story that came through that process was exceptional, beyond belief,” she said.
For her, the lack of stories about women relates to the fact that people are not used to putting their own mothers as stars of a story. More often than not, mothers are seen more as supporting characters. Seeing mothers in a different light, Norry explained the valuable lesson she learned through the project:
“So, I have role models all around me now because I found them.”
Raising Up The Female Voice
Sharpe’s movie, Bone Wind Fire, is a short film that premiered back in 2011. It flows from scene to scene in a very intimate and poetic manner on the lives of three artists: Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr and Frida Kahlo.
“I don’t think I set out to necessarily talk about women’s issues, but just an idea of what stories matter, what stories we need as a humanity to stay inspired, to envision a new kind of world,” Sharpe said about the film.
Now, Sharpe acknowledges she is more passionate about women’s issues and aims to take more deliberate actions to protect women’s rights, saying, “I think about donating to causes and making sure that I use my freedom, my free voice, not just to make my own work, but also to stay responsible to supporting women in a larger scale.”
Furthermore, Sharpe wants to use her own work as a filmmaker to support women.
“I’ll continue to make films that include women, that have crews with women, that will have a woman’s voice in perspective. And I also hope to continue to speak to men and women about how we can evolve together,” she said.
However, all the panelists pointed out that funding and distribution are among the main challenges for empowering women in the film industry. This represents a big obstacle and has a direct impact on the stories seen on the silver screen.
“Many of these films [about women] don’t have a distribution, because they [the female creators] think the public will not go to see them. But they think wrong,” Navarro said. She argues that her film, Las Sufragistas, is an example of how productions done by women about women can be successful.
Building on this, Sharpe suggested that the public has the opportunity to raise their voices against movies that exclude women, explaining:
“We all as viewers have an opportunity to actually vote with our feet and with our pocketbook. And that’s one place to start.”
Latin American Week
The panel for Women’s Voices in the Americas was part of the celebrations for Vancouver’s Latin American Week. The events are hosted by the non-profit organization Latincouver, which aims to bring together Latin Americans and enthusiasts living in British Columbia.
The major event of the week is Carnaval Del Sol, which is said to be the biggest Latin festival in the Pacific Northwest. The festivity will take place this weekend, July 7 and 8, from 11 am to 10 pm at the Concord Pacific.
For more information on the festival and tickets, please click here to go to the official website.