Meet the Female Directors Taking the Lead in Mexican Cinema

Film reel
Film reel | © Stefan/Flickr
Stephen Woodman

Female directors are still rare in Hollywood. Only seven percent of the top 250 films in 2016 were directed by women, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. The situation for female filmmakers is significantly better in Mexico, where 23 percent of the films produced in 2016 were directed by women, more than triple the percentage in Hollywood. These directors often face great challenges, but the statistics suggest the Mexican film industry is moving in the right direction. Here are some of the best women filmmakers working in Mexico today.

Tatiana Huezo

The Salvadorian-Mexican director Tatiana Huezo is a leading light of the country’s independent film movement. A product of the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC) – a prestigious Mexico City film college – Huezo won multiple awards for her 2016 documentary Tempestad (Tempest).

The film follows two women who have suffered horrendously as a result of the impunity and injustice that plagues Mexican society.

Adela is a clown who works in a traveling circus and is searching for her daughter, who disappeared without trace more than ten years ago. Miriam has just been released from a jail in Matamoros, northern Mexico, where she was imprisoned for people trafficking despite a total lack of evidence.

The powerful, atmospheric film makes it clear that these are not isolated stories but are illustrative of the struggles faced by many women in modern Mexico.

Natalia Bruschtein

Huezo’s fellow CCC graduate, Natalia Bruschtein was born in Argentina but moved to Mexico shortly afterwards with her mother to escape the oppressive Argentine regime. For her moving directorial debut, the 2015 documentary Tiempo suspendido, (Time Suspended) she returned to the country of her birth to interview her grandmother, Laura Bonaparte. After her husband was “disappeared” by the government, Bonaparte spent years campaigning to remind people of the dictatorship’s crimes. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s, Bonaparte struggles to retain the memories of her many lost family members, including her husband.

“I wanted to make a documentary about the fragmentation of memory, about the time that is gone and about how one chooses certain memories and not others,” Bruschtein said. “In a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the most powerful events in their life are often the first to be erased.”

Elisa Miller

Another CCC graduate, Elisa Miller became the first Mexican woman to win a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Her winning entry, the short film Ver Llover (Watching it Rain) tells the story of a teenage boy who has to decide whether to leave his small Mexican town with his girlfriend. Miller’s second feature film, El placer es mío (The Pleasure Is Mine), is a tense relationship drama about a couple from Mexico City who relocate to the countryside. Once there, the couple find that there stormy relationship takes a turn for the worse.

Patricia Riggen

The Guadalajara-born director is one of Mexico’s most successful crossover talents, having worked in both Mexico and Hollywood. To date, Riggen’s greatest commercial success was the 2016 drama Miracles from Heaven, which starred Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers.

Riggen is most closely identified with her innovative 2007 migrant film Under the Same Moon. The film featured Kate Del Castillo as a young Mexican cleaner who is working illegally in Los Angeles to support her son back in Mexico.

Unlike most immigration films, the story centers on the love of a mother and her child, and the narrative unfolds with a hopeful perspective. “I wanted to make a film that migrants would like,” Riggen told La Jornada newspaper.

The director notes that despite her success she has faced many obstacles as a female in a male-dominated sphere and expects that to continue in the future.

“It’s not just the film industry, it’s a worldwide thing,” she told Time Magazine in 2015. “It’s the culture of the world to doubt women.”

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