The Gringas, 2014 digital video, 60 minutes [1:42 excerpts]
"The Gringas" is a highly subjective record of the filmmaker's involvement with the family of a teenaged American-German girl growing up in rural Mexico, and is set around the planning of her quinceañera and its aftermath.
"The Gringas" is a portrait of several years in the lives of her friends, American and German expatriate pagans, who live in an old school bus parked permanently in a dirt field in Baja, Mexico. Lena is the 15-year-old daughter who can move fluidly in either urban Los Angeles or rural Mexico, seemingly comfortable in her identity as a Mexican country girl, yet she fully belongs neither here nor there.
The details of putting on a quinceañera seems to be overt topic of "The Gringas," while a young woman's emerging sexuality meeting the pressures exerted by disparate cultural forces that work to contain it (poverty, gangs, pop culture, Catholicism, paganism, boys) is the subtler theme. The film captures glimpses of the relationships between the women in her life-mother, sister, and friends-and the women's love for each other, their struggles for their own power, and their containment by circumstances of age and culture. The young woman is alternately self-possessed, self-reflexive, and self-betraying-much like a typical teenager. Lena seems to have many more choices than her friends, but life in Mexico is unstable and unpredictable, and tragedy strikes twice in six months time.
The reality of relentless poverty and dereliction is set against the breathtaking beauty of the Baja countryside in the long, still gaze of the camera. Rural Mexico's slack pace opens out slowly in scenes of endless fields and far-off hills, animals and farm laborers in the distant fields, and vast landscapes divided by receding fences and roads where the camera has taken the time to look.
The video is unconventional in terms of documentary because of the personal involvement of the filmmaker with her subjects; the edited video is an unembellished record of their interaction on site during the events. The filmmaker continues to witness the family's resilience and determination over the next couple of years, after the burning of their bus and the patriarch's death. When Lena appears with her teenage fiancé the question of her future becomes a series of love letters between Mexico and Norte America.
Winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Mexico International Film Festival.
Link to full video: https://vimeo.com/540367604
South London Gallery, London, curated by Chris Kraus
Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles
Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles