The Two Faces of the Border
The documentary Mija, director Isabel Castro’s debut feature film, portrays a story in which many migrant families can see themselves reflected in the US.
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Fate brought Doris Muñoz and Jacks Haupt together in an unexpected way. And yet, there are more coincidences than differences that have allowed the Californian and the Texan to build a warm friendship as a result of a close working relationship.
Both first-generation Americans are daughters of Mexican parents who left their home country to build a better future in the United States. The best future, however, only seems to be on the horizon for Doris and Jacks as they seek to make their way in the world of music.
The first is a music manager and, although a setback with one of her main clients has led her to question her professional worth, she knows she cannot give up: she is the only economic support for her undocumented parents who have been waiting tirelessly for legal residency in a country where they have been living for three decades. She is also a support for her brother who was deported six years ago to Mexico. So, overwhelmed by her worries and emotions, Doris must often drive to Tijuana to see her brother and to materialize the hugs that mom and dad send her from the other side of the border.
Jacks, for her part, longs to be a singer, although this dream generates displeasure in her family, who discredit art as a profession that guarantees prosperity and freedom from the shadow of deportation.
These are the two stories marked by the trauma of migration that Mexican-American director Isabel Castro tells in Mija, her debut feature film.
INSPIRING THE MIGRANT COMMUNITY
With an established career in communications and production, and a special sensitivity to civil rights and Latin immigration, the filmmaker invested two years to follow in the footsteps of the main characters.
Isabel first met Doris when she was organizing benefit concerts for her family. Thanks to her, she immersed herself in a fascinating Latin youth world, where Spanish and English are one and the same language, and where music is lived with passion because it is capable of linking two territories that are close but, at the same time, distant. “It inspired me a lot and when I met Doris we were able to talk and we connected. At that concert I decided to tell the story and I told Doris, I asked her if she was willing to film, because in a documentary you never know how long it will take, if one, two, four years”, the director told AL DÍA.
A brief moment of panic and excitement took over Doris’ body upon receiving the proposal. “The first thing I thought was: ‘Am I ready for this? Am I ready to open up my life?’ I didn’t have an answer to that question. I felt fear and also courage because I knew that part of my life's purpose was to tell that story and my family’s. I also thought that I needed a film like this, when I was younger, to have hope in the midst of fear, because I didn’t know what was going to happen to my family or because of the fear we sometimes have to pursue our dreams. That’s when I knew that the film would be a way to inspire others”, added Doris.
The star of Mija highlighted the courage of her parents who, from the beginning, were convinced to participate in the documentary. “My family was not ready but they saw this project as a testimony to give hope to those in need. And when we started shooting the film, my parents had no papers and they gave themselves to filming without knowing what was going to happen in the next few years, whether the residency would come or not. We accepted because the call is the call, and you can’t say no to the call. We felt we were chosen to be the messengers; how could we say no to this if our community needs it”, she said.
IN THEATERS AND STREAMING PLATFORMS
Mija premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2022 as an Official NEXT Selection. The film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best American Film at the Champs-Elysées Film Festival. It also won Best Film at the Dock of the Bay 2022 Festival.
After screening at True/False Film Festival, Miami Film Festival, Hot Docs, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, Guadalajara International Film Festival, Isabel Castro’s film premiered in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday, August 5th. It has also been available on Disney+ streaming platform since September 16th.