When Aurora Guerrero needed to raise $40,000 of her $80,000 Kickstarter goal in two days to make her debut feature film, she reached out to her community. She contacted people of color, queers, immigrants, working class folk—anyone who was ready for the stories ignored by the mainstream movie industry. When she needed to put together a crew and cast to actually make the film, she reached out again, once more finding the support she needed.
The result of these collective efforts is Mosquita y Mari, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has since won numerous awards at Outfest and other film festivals. The recognition must feel like a victory for everyone who has supported the film. And the circles of support are growing, as screenings of Mosquita continue to pack theater houses across the country.
Guerrero’s own experiences growing up as a queer Chicana in San Francisco and doing years of activist work in Latino communities inform her socially-attuned approach to film making. They also clearly feed her passion for storytelling. The film is intimate, following the blossoming and quietly sensuous friendship between two teenage Latinas in Huntington Park, an industrial suburb of southeast L.A. Yolanda, studious and college-bound, and streetwise Mari—who is also undocumented—navigate the harsh, gridded landscape (as well as unforgiving cultural expectations), in the process carving out a safe space in the city to explore their own identities and personal desires.
Here, Guerrero talks with CultureStrike contributor Carribean Fragoza (co-director of the multi-disciplinary arts collective, South El Monte Art Posse), about Mosquita as a new model for making films: telling the stories of queer youth and immigrant communities by building community—early in the process—on the ground and online.
The movie trailer.
Carribean Fragoza: The Dreamer movement has grown and strengthened its voice, with so many young students choosing to reveal their status as undocumented immigrants, despite the risk of deportation. It seems to be a kind of “coming out” that is not unlike the queer “coming out.” What do you think about this?
Aurora Guerrero: I definitely see the parallels. There’s a reason why we’re seeing folks stepping out as “UndocuQueers.” It’s making a statement of sorts to connect the two. To “come out” makes you visible and what comes with that is two-fold. On the one hand, you can easily become a target for violence and injustices. On the other, the courage to live in the open, is an act of bravery—it’s empowering. It gives you a voice rather than living in silence. It’s powerful and I am incredibly inspired by the UndocuQueers out there!
Mari’s bike seems as present in the film as the characters. Can you speak to the bike’s role in the story?
For Yolanda, the bike represents a mode of liberation. While for Mari, the bike represents the hustle around the neighborhood. But by the end of their journey together, when they both begin to chart a different path for themselves, the bike is absent. I think it’s about finding something within themselves that will give them what they seek in life.
You repeatedly show shots of power lines overhead and fences on the ground, as well as a lot of industrial areas with virtually no green space. How might such a gridded and guarded landscape emotionally and psychologically affect your characters?
I think it affects them spiritually. To be so disconnected from land, la madre tierra, I think disconnects us from ourselves and from each other. This industrial landscape constantly looms over this community and these girls—as if reminding them that they belong to a world that cherishes profit over their humanity.
I think Yolanda seems the most comfortable in her own skin in the scene when she wears her father’s vaquero hat and watches herself dance in the mirror. Why does wearing her father’s hat allow her to do this?
Yolanda has a monologue prior to that scene where she shares with Mari a time when she witnessed her hard-working, immigrant parents share a tender, romantic moment with each other. It’s significant to her because her parents, as seen in the film, are stuck in a routine of work, often disconnecting them from each other. Yolanda goes on to remember how her father pulled out a cowboy hat Yolanda had never seen her father wear, then proceeded to waltz around the room with Yolanda’s mother. In Yolanda’s personal life, she’s finding herself spending more time with Mari and beginning to question what her life is really about, other than getting good grades and thinking about college. That hat, therefore, is a direct tie to that memory and in a way inspires Yolanda to fantasize what it would be like to have a moment like that with someone—maybe with Mari.
You involved residents from Huntington Park, especially youth, in the film making process. Why did you choose to do that? Had you ever worked like this before? What was that like?
I think filmmakers have a responsibility to the community they set their films in, especially if they are not a member of that community. I’m originally from the Bay Area so I felt it was important to approach Huntington Park with respect, not assuming that just because I’m Chicana I have the right to come into their space and claim it as mine. That’s why I approached a resident and organizer of Huntington Park about four years prior to making the film. Together we talked about ways in which this film could benefit the community. I was especially interested in making the filmmaking process accessible to youth in the area. I never had that experience while growing up, so whenever I have the ability to open up that door, I will. It was an incredible experience for everyone. The community’s participation gave the film its distinct and authentic voice while the youth benefited from first-hand mentorship.
When I think of highly successful online fundraising campaigns I think of you and Aurora Anaya-Cerda, the founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore in Harlem. Is there something about fundraising online that encourages community to support these projects? It seems like its fundraising that builds community in its process. Can you share your thoughts on this?
I think most people know that setting out to make a feature film or starting a local bookstore is not a cheap endeavor. It takes resources that people of color often don’t have access to. For example, in the film industry, traditionally, most films are produced by companies or individuals that look to make a profit off your film. And the films they believe will generate money are a certain type—those with big name actors (usually white) or that are of a particular genre like comedy or horror. These are the films that often get the “green-light.” It’s not about content or the impact a film can potentially have on communities. So the idea of having the power to “green-light” a project is exciting and empowering for people. Donors become investors, but of a different kind. While it’s still financial support, it’s also about someone becoming a part of something that has the potential of being significant in their lives and the lives of others. And since it takes several donors to reach a hefty goal, then they all equally become part of a community of supporters or ambassadors for your film early on. Before things like Kickstarter came around, you couldn’t build a community around your film until your film was finished. Having a relationship to a project early on really creates that sense of ownership and closes the gap between the audience and the film.