A still from The Appleseed Project
A still from The Appleseed Project, one of the films in the Femme Frontera showcase screened at CineFestival. Credit: Courtesy / Femme Frontera

Three years ago, Femme Frontera was created as a way to showcase stories from the U.S.-Mexico borderland told by Latina filmmakers from the area.

Those stories are told in different styles, from narrative shorts to silent films to documentaries, exploring a wide range of topics. Femme Frontera was meant to be personal rather than political, but as filmmaker and founding member Jen Lucero says, “For us, the personal is political.”

Over the past three years, the showcase has toured the country, including a stop Friday at San Antonio’s CineFestival at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Prior to the screening of Femme Frontera’s five films, Lucero highlighted their original intent to show a different side of the border.

“We wanted to smash stereotypes and shed light on issues people didn’t know about,” Lucero said. “These films might educate you, they might show you something you’ve never seen, or they might show you something that makes you feel seen.”

Since its founding in 2016 by El Pasoan Angie Reza Tures, the film collective has expanded its second and third film showcases to go beyond the confines of just the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, its second showcase broached topics from the physical borders involved in Europe’s refugee crisis to the mental boundaries involved in gender identity.

As a musician, Lucero was used to being one of the only women in her group. As a filmmaker, she became accustomed to being one of the only women in the crew. But since joining Femme Frontera, Lucero has been surrounded by women who she says knew exactly what those experiences were like.

“It felt great to be around women who understood,” Lucero said. “They were the colleagues I had always wanted, who wanted to pursue the same dreams I did, who understood what sexual harassment felt like, who understood what being the only woman felt like.”

CineFestival programmer Manuel Solis said after learning of Femme Frontera, he wanted to make sure to include the film collective in this year’s festival.

“What sets them apart is that they’re focusing on issues related to the border but using a different point of view that doesn’t use the same clichés we’re used to, like drug cartels or immigration,” Solis said. “They might talk about those issues, but it’s coming from a fresh angle.”

Regardless of where the stories take place, the films tackle topics that go far beyond the borderlands. From life and death to sexual harassment, the films show the diversity of the Latinx experience.

A still from La Catrina
The film La Catrina, directed by Ilana Lapid, is featured in the Femme Frontera showcase. Credit: Courtesy / Femme Frontera

At Friday’s screening, the response from the audience grew louder and louder with each film, especially as the films broached a hot-button topic in today’s headlines: the perils of life as an undocumented immigrant.

In Overland, Jazmin Harvey’s narrative short, main character Noemi becomes a “fantasy maid” in order to earn money for documentation. As she faces threats of harassment and exploitation, Noemi comes to terms with the vulnerability of her situation.

Another film, Laura Bustillos Jáquez’s documentary short Undocumented Freedom, follows the journey of a 19-year-old as he grapples with his sexuality and a nonviolent drug offense that results in his deportation.

“There’s a lot of ignorance about the border, and that ignorance just breeds fear,” Lucero said. “But with our showcase, we’re showing you five films that are proving to you it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be drug trafficking and the border patrol, there’s so much more there.”

As Femme Frontera continues to expand its programming and receive yearly submissions for its showcases, Lucero said the group’s main goal is to give underrepresented communities the chance to be heard.

“Just like me wanting to see someone like myself making movies or being a musician, someone with a disability or from another underrepresented community wants to see themselves, too.

“There are people doing it and that’s what we’re trying to show.”

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Cat Cardenas

Cat Cardenas is a freelance journalist from San Antonio focused on news and culture reporting.