Having impressed at the Morelia Intl. Film Festival in the past with her short films, Spanish born, Mexican trained filmmaker Anaïs Pareto Onghena returns to the Michoacán capital with her latest feature “Santa Bárbara,” participating in the Impulso Morelia works in progress sidebar.

Bárbara, a Bolivian woman living in Barcelona for more than a decade, works as a housekeeper and lives with her girlfriend Maribel. On one of her weekly calls to her children, still living with her mother back home, she learns her eldest, Ulises, has been arrested. She brings the boy to live with her in Barcelona, where the two are forced to meet each other anew after 12 years apart.

Santa Úrsula Films, Pareto Onghena’s label, co-produces alongside Spain’s Timber Films. Prominent Argentine auteur writer-director Paula Markovich consulted on the screenplay, which won best screenplay at the Guanajuato Intl. Film Festival last year.

Pareto Onghena discussed the film, its real-world inspirations and how her own experiences as an immigrant influence her work as a filmmaker.

There’s no shortage of movies about fathers who have abandoned their children. Here you’ve done something atypical and focused on a mother who left her children for more than a decade, but you don’t judge her. Was it important to you that she’s a sympathetic character?

This film is inspired by many migrant women I met while making a documentary. This pattern was repeated in many of them and what drove me to write this script. Initially I think they do it because they believe it’s best for them. In the long run this leads them to move away from that harder life and reinvent themselves elsewhere, in another reality.

In many ways, Barbara, her friends and their partner are maturing into adulthood as Ulyssis, but later in life. Is this a film about coming of age in that sense?

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I did think that Barbara in a new country is living a new youth, since hers was taken away from her. These women have very hard life stories which forced them into adulthood in a hasty way.

Our music says a lot about us. The music in the film, I think, says a lot about the characters, rather than just existing in the background.

That’s right. Most of the moments in these women’s private and public lives are accompanied by Latin music, which connects them to their home countries. Also, in the group I met they listened to a lot of bachata, a melancholy and romantic music that I think represents fantasy and feelings of longing shared by many of them. So, music became an important contextualizing and dramatic tool for the film.

Your situation is like Barbara’s but in reverse no? You moved from Barcelona to Mexico.

It is the other way around, but nobody pressured me, I chose to emigrate. Barbara didn’t. Now I live between Mexico and Spain.

And how did you find the experience of studying in Latin America?

Coming to Mexico opened new horizons for me. I discovered other narratives, other realities and it stimulated me to create and grow as a person. It’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone. I found a cinema with which I fully connected, despite not being born here. The mentality of how things are done fits me too. Here they never just think about doing something. Even if there aren’t many resources or the conditions are less than ideal, it is always better to do something than not.

Do you find collaborating between Spain and Latin America a natural experience beyond a shared language?

It’s natural because of cultural similarities, but above all by the language. In the end, language is how we express ourselves, and I believe that expression in cinematic language and narrative is linked to the language that we all speak. So yes, there’s a lot in common and it’s a natural synergy.

Morelia must be a special event for you. Can you talk briefly about what it means to be back after competing with your shorts in the past?

Morelia is very important to me because it was the first festival to select my first short in its official selection, something that at the time I didn’t think would ever happen for me. It is a festival that brings in bold projects with open arms and that values diverse criteria. To me that’s extremely valuable.

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Santa Ursula Films