When Femme Frontera held its first filmmakers’ showcase in August 2016, it was supposed to be a one-time thing. Founder Angie Reza Tures wanted to share her new short film with friends and family, but worried it would be “kind of weird to premiere a 15-minute film and then everybody goes home,” Tures said. So she invited five friends, also filmmakers, to screen their work along with hers and pitched the informal event as a celebration of films made by women on the border.
Those six short films struck a nerve with the public. Word of the showcase quickly spread beyond El Paso, drawing invitations to screen their films around the country. “It was just crazy how fast it took off on its own,” Tures recalled. After six months on tour, she thought, “well, why don’t we make this more of a thing?”
Now in its sixth year, the Femme Frontera Filmmakers Showcase has expanded to include international filmmakers and events beyond its film screenings. As an organization, Femme Frontera is also working year-round to foster local talent in the border region, offering filmmaking classes, grants and mentoring opportunities to emerging filmmakers.
On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 and 7, Femme Frontera will virtually showcase eight short films — among them, an experimental animation about breastfeeding; a film about a woman’s experience of pregnancy during COVID; and a short featuring female rappers from Ciudad Juárez.
The festival’s educational programming includes Spanish-language workshops to teach documentary filmmaking using smartphones; a grant-writing workshop for filmmakers seeking funding opportunities; and a special screening of “The Infiltrators” by the El Paso director and MacArthur genius award winner Cristina Ibarra. Viewers can also tune into a showcase of children’s films produced during Femme Frontera’s summer classes.
El Paso Matters spoke with Tures about this year’s showcase. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
El Paso Matters: How do this year’s films compare to previous years?
Tures: We’ve always been known for having very raw films, very vulnerable films. That part hasn’t changed. But the vulnerability is deeper, and I think that it’s because after having gone through something like a pandemic, people are very willing to just be extremely open with how they’re feeling and with how they’re dealing with things. To see all these films from different parts of the country that share a similar viewpoint of where the world is at right now, it’s quite phenomenal.
The films this year are not like any films that we’ve had so far. The motherhood elements we’ve typically seen from sort of an ancestral or nostalgic point of view, a point of view that’s very much with our elders and our ancestors. This time it’s what it feels like to be a mother during the pandemic right now, what it is to be living on the border right now.
The rawness is so fierce and so powerful. If anyone thought we were intense before… (laughs). I think this year adds just a little bit of a twist, not of darkness, but of hope — of radical hope.
El Paso Matters: You’ve said this year’s theme is “the border as an experiment.” What does that theme mean to you?
Tures: There’s a lot of people who feel that the border doesn’t exist. It’s something that we’ve created with our minds and it’s a political tool.
I was born in El Paso in 1981. I’ve seen the border go from a river to a chain link fence to the massive gate that it is now. It’s been a process of watching all that happen and questioning why it’s been happening. Especially because as a kid, I lived between here and Juárez constantly because we had family across the border.
I know that there’s been a lot of division, even here in our community. It’s been really difficult to see people in El Paso — being Mexican even, being first generation sometimes — say, ‘put the wall up, make them stay over there.’
I’m second-generation Mexican American. I wish that there was not this division. It’s very painful to see your people in cages when you feel like, man, if my ancestors had just waited 100 years to emigrate, they would be in those cages right now. It’s caused a lot of pain in this region. I’ve seen a lot of it firsthand.
El Paso Matters: One of Femme Frontera’s stated missions is to challenge stereotypical narratives of the border region. How has that mission evolved? What do you feel the public still needs to learn?
Tures: Whenever we show films here in this region, it’s important for me that people see themselves reflected in a really accurate way and in an honest way. And of course, no one story is ever going to reflect everybody.
When we move out of this region, that’s really where I see the biggest impact. Earlier, when we’d get questions from the audience about what they were seeing on screen, some people would think that we were exaggerating or that things weren’t that bad. They’d kind of had their own narrative in mind. A lot of times during the screenings, we’d have to challenge that. In the last two screenings, I didn’t see that at all.
El Paso Matters: Femme Frontera launched the year that Donald Trump was elected president and was widely viewed as a response to his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Has anything changed now that he’s no longer president?
Tures: (During the Trump administration), part of the media coverage of us was, ‘Look at what these ladies are doing. They’re going against the entire administration,’ when these films that we had made were years prior to Trump. Yes, by all means we’re an antithesis to all of that rhetoric, but this has been happening for decades.
But I had that question myself: are the goals of the organization in any way going to be impacted by no longer having Trump in office, by having a different president? No. Like I said, these were issues before Trump, and there’s the same issues after. We still have kids in cages on the border, we still have tent cities.
El Paso Matters: What goals do you have for Femme Frontera and its role in El Paso?
Tures: A lot of what’s said in the media is reduced to very one-sided, very oversimplified versions of who we are as people. There’s also been a lot of people coming from other parts of the country to do stories on us out here. It takes a tremendous amount of responsibility, if you’re going to come to this region and tell stories about people here. You need to understand that so much of what you’re documenting has layers upon layers upon layers of other stories and other reasons for what’s going on.
For us, to be able to give storytellers in this region access to funding, to camera equipment, to educational resources and initiatives in order to help them tell the stories from here, that’s our goal: for people to be able to start challenging those other narratives by just telling it like it is, as they live.
I want anybody to feel like they have a story to tell. They don’t have to be this established filmmaker. They can pick up a camera, they can take a class, and they can go make a movie on something that’s really important to them or about their lives.