The lights dimmed in the Motion Picture Association’s theater, and the voice of Miguel Barrios’ mother filled the room. In a short film visualizing the bond between a mother and son, Barrios’ nearly six-minute, award-winning piece “My Hero, My Mother” left few in the audience with dry eyes.
Barrios’ short film was recognized as the $5,000 prize winner of the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Kaleidoscope Short Film Contest and Festival, which was organized by Arizona State University, Universidad de Guadalajara and the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Contest submissions told stories of how relations between the U.S. and Mexico affect lives, societies and experiences across the two countries. Barrios’ film specifically centered on the sacrifices his mother made to provide him and his sibling with the best opportunities in life.
The Kaleidoscope contest received more than 850 short film submissions, which were narrowed down to 14 finalists. A panel of eight judges – from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to Academy Award winner Eugenio Caballero – then selected the winners of the grand prize of $5,000 and the second- and third-place prizes of $2,500 and $1,000. The three winners were screened at a reception at the Motion Picture Association’s global headquarters in Washington, D.C., in September.
Barrios, who shot the film on his phone for a school project, said that getting recognized for his work has been surreal.
“My professor was the one that pushed me into so many different festivals,” he said. “I just submitted without thinking anything was going to happen.”
The second-place winner, “Enough” (“Suficiente”), featured a poem discussing identity as a Latina. The poem’s author, Regina Romero, originally shared the poem with a writers’ group, which is where it caught the attention of the film’s director, Susana Montoya Quinchia.
“I think we found ourselves working very easily,” said Romero. “That’s what’s so nice about having a director. You kind of just let go of the piece, and Susie brought all these ideas of what she envisioned the portrayal of the poem being, which was, ‘We’ll have you being all the stereotypes and having all these things put on you.’”
In the film, Romero dons several costumes portraying Latina and white stereotypes, which she said was difficult but liberating.
“It’s always a back-and-forth with my identities,” said Romero. “People are like — just like the poem says — ‘You’re not Mexican enough and you’re not American enough, so like, what are you?’”
The third-place winner, “Sabor y Amor,” was a nine-minute video created by Ivonne Serna and Luke Robbins. The film’s title translates to “Taste of Love,” an apt name for its story, which follows Alejandra, a woman cooking classic Mexican dishes like tamales for Vermont’s migrant community.
“I just heard about her migration story, how her business grew, how it was born out of necessity. But at the same time, it was something that gave her a lot of pleasure in a way,” said Serna. “Contextualizing that in the context of Vermont, where these stories are lacking even though the migrant community is part of the backbone of the state, especially in some industries like the dairy industry or farming — I thought that this is a story that I really wanted to tell.”
Many stories about migrants’ experiences focus on men or take place in large cities. For Ivonne and Luke, “Sabor y Amor” was an opportunity to tell a woman’s story in Vermont, which has a rich migrant community.
“There’s always the question, how do you build a community?" said Luke. “This is a story about someone who takes on that question.”
The Kaleidoscope contest also recognized 200 years of diplomacy between the U.S. and Mexico, a topic that was discussed after the screening in a panel between Peter Murrieta, producer and deputy director of The Sidney Poitier New American Film School at ASU; former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson; and Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee, who moderated the discussion.
Jacobson explained that one big issue that events like the Kaleidoscope contest seek to correct is people seeing relations between the U.S. and Mexico as only pertaining to border states like Texas, Arizona and California.
“The notion in some ways that this only matters to border states is such a false construct,” said Jacobson. “The boundaries of community begin being very firm, very perhaps isolating, but result in a sort of amoeba-like osmosis, where the cultures and the lines do begin to blur, enriching both.”
Murrieta, who has produced such projects as “Primo,” “Mr. Iglesias,” “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Greetings from Tucson,” spoke to the importance of films like the Kaleidoscope's three winners, which all told authentic, honest experiences of being Mexican in the United States. In Murrieta’s own work, he has done the same.
“It was just that simple — an artist choosing to write about themselves, and not thinking about a barrier and not thinking about anything other than a story,” he said. “I think the more we as artists just keep sort of doing that, we can let the other people come behind us and fill in the forms.”
Written by Hager Sharp
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