Femme Frontera, a group celebrating films made by women and LGBTQ filmmakers from border regions around the world, launches its seventh annual showcase at the Plaza Theatre Friday, and will be screening films in person for the first time since the pandemic began.
Founded in 2016 by six friends from the Paso del Norte region who were looking for ways to showcase their own films, Femme Frontera first drew public attention as a rebuttal to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. But its mission has always been bigger than that, executive director Angie Reza Tures has said.
The organization works year-round to nurture local filmmakers who are women, people of color and non-binary to push for more diverse representation in the film industry.
“If we don’t see ourselves on screen, or we don’t see ourselves being celebrated behind the camera, it’s hard to imagine us being able to do it,” Reza Tures said.
Filmmaker Ryan Rox, who received Femme Frontera funding and mentoring to write, act in and direct the short film “Shipping Them,” which will premiere in Friday’s showcase, has benefited first-hand from diverse media representation. It wasn’t until watching a participant on RuPaul’s “Drag Race” come out as non-binary – a term for people who don’t identify exclusively as male or female – that Rox began to question their own gender identity.
Rox hopes their short film, which was inspired by their adolescence in El Paso and features a non-binary protagonist, might help others in the same way.
“I’m hoping that people see it, especially young queer kids, and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what I’m going through right now. That’s what I’m experiencing.’ And they’re not alone in that.”
Femme Frontera also aims to promote authentic storytelling from the region, Reza Tures said. Along with its showcase of eight short films and a feature-length screening of “What We Leave Behind,” an award-winning documentary by El Paso native Iliana Sosa, this year’s festival will also include a panel discussion called “From Short Film to TV” – meant to help teach emerging filmmakers how to get their work seen by larger audiences.
“The goal isn’t necessarily you’ve got to go big, you’ve got to go Hollywood – the goal is deeper than that,” Reza Tures said. “Stories from our region, the stories from our border communities, the stories from people of color, and Latinx people in general, are so silenced and very rarely allowed to be consumed by the mainstream market. We are always shut out. And so for us, it’s about breaking through whatever challenges they’re going to inevitably face.”
One of those barriers is funding. Over the years, Femme Frontera has offered grants to filmmakers and screenwriters, several of whom have short films in this year’s showcase.
“Femme Frontera is just planting seeds. We’ve only been around six years and it’s going to take a long time to see what develops,” Reza Tures said. “It’s just little things to help people build, but we’re hoping that it’s a step.”
Sosa’s film, “What We Leave Behind” is a feature-length documentary about her grandfather, who lived in central Mexico and worked as a bracero in New Mexico and Texas, where he’d visit Sosa while she was growing up.
A Femme Frontera co-founder who now lives in Austin, Sosa received her first grant for the documentary in 2018 from the city of El Paso’s Museums and Cultural Affairs Department. Through the years she spent filming, Sosa said she doubted whether anyone would be interested in her grandfather’s story, especially in an industry that’s still dominated by white men.
But “the intimate can be universal,” Sosa noted, and her film has received accolades from this year’s SXSW film festival and the New York Times, where it’s listed as a critics pick. On Friday, “What We Leave Behind” will premiere to an even wider audience on Netflix. With groups like Femme Frontera, Sosa added, “this is how it starts.”
Femme Frontera Filmmaker Showcase
- 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30
- Philanthropy Theatre at Plaza Theatre
- 125 Pioneer Plaza in Downtown
- 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
- Alamo Drafthouse Montecillo
- 250 Montecillo Blvd.
- Click here to register in advance to attend
- 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
- Plaza Theatre
Feature Film Screening + Director Q&A
- “What We Leave Behind”
- 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
- Philanthropy Theatre at Plaza Theatre
Tickets and information