In her documentary on three immigrant women, Lina Rodriguez didn't just want to "tell their stories"
Rodriguez focused on building relationships with her Latin American subjects for her new film My Two Voices
Cutaways is a personal essay series by Canadian filmmakers, asking them to tell the story of how their film was made. This Hot Docs edition by Lina Rodriguez focuses on her film My Two Voices, which focuses on three Latin American women who share their experiences of immigration to Canada.
Like many immigrants, I live in between emotional and geographical spaces. It is a position that makes me feel settled one moment and like an outsider the next.
Given that I came to Canada by myself, my daily routine is profoundly divided. It involves communicating in English as I live and move around Toronto as well as Spanish on WhatsApp with my parents in Bogotá, Colombia, and my brother in Sydney, Australia. In a way, I lead a sort of double life that oscillates between my past in Colombia and my present here. After making two feature films in Bogotá, the city where I was born, I wanted to find ways to represent this simultaneity — the feeling of being in many places at once. It's something that I have seldom seen on Canadian screens.
In 2017, I started developing a fiction film called So Much Tenderness, which follows the immigration journey of a Colombian environmental lawyer to Canada. As part of my research process, I met Claudia Montoya, a wonderful Colombian Canadian woman who's a settlement worker with the immigrant community in the Greater Toronto Area. Given Claudia's extensive experience accompanying immigrants on their journeys (particularly from Latin America), I asked if she would give me feedback on the script, and she graciously agreed.
After spending some time together, I was so inspired by her incredible leadership that I wanted to make another film to celebrate her and the work she does as a community weaver. I approached Claudia with the idea of making a film together and asked her to introduce me to other Latin American women whose immigration journeys she had supported. She put me in touch with Ana (Garay) Kostic, who immigrated from Mexico, and Marinela Piedrahita, who was born in Canada, then sent to Colombia, but decided to come back to Canada without having a connection to the language or culture. After several months of chatting with them, Mis dos voces was born. I decided to focus the film on all three women and make it a sort of triptych portrait, reflecting on their respective immigrant experiences as well as their thoughts on themes of violence, belonging, language, motherhood and reconciliation.
Before recording any images or sounds for Mis dos voces, I wanted to create a welcoming and safe space for everyone involved, so I decided to first spend time with Ana, Claudia and Marinela. It was important for me as well as for the film that we developed connections and shared stories as immigrants and women first. I used this opportunity to visit their respective homes and families and pay attention to the rhythms, colours and textures of their everyday lives and jobs. I listened to their experiences and shared my own.
My task as a filmmaker was to figure out how to portray their complexities in a way that was reciprocal to their incredible generosity and trust. I wanted to find a loving and careful way to do this without defining, categorizing or fixing their identities and journeys, so they could come across on their own terms. I did not want to "tell their stories," but instead was trying to find ways for us to move towards one another, so we could learn from the echoes and contrasts in our experiences. The way I developed a relationship with each of them is very much connected to the way I approach filmmaking. As a human activity, I see filmmaking as an encounter between people. I try to position myself more as a weaver than a director, because I do not feel comfortable with this role of the "knower" — the person who controls everything and comes somewhere to take and extract stories, performances and energy from others.
As part of my resistance to create a centralized perspective, I also structured the film as a sort of journey that starts small and focuses on their gestures (paying particular attention to their hands, for example, as they perform quotidian activities such as driving, tending to their children and gardening), as well as objects in their homes and workplaces. Then, towards the end, the film grows and opens up and finally reveals their faces. I did this as a conscious invitation to the audience to get a sense of these women before they "see" them, but also as a reminder that seeing is not as easy as it seems. I also intentionally created a discrepancy between sounds and images, so the sounds that we hear do not correspond to the images that we see. I wanted to create a sense of disorientation in the viewer, making it challenging for them to locate themselves in relation to what they are seeing and hearing. This strategy is an extension of my refusal to define these three women, their histories and their experiences. It also extends from my desire to echo the very experience of immigration, which asks us to constantly find our bearings in a new environment and culture.
Throughout the making of Mis dos voces, I kept remembering a conversation I had with Claudia early on. She talked about how although we have already arrived here in Canada, it's as if being an immigrant implies a continuous arrival — we have to arrive every day, again and again. This really resonated with me. Although I had to learn many things when I first arrived — which bus to take or not to kiss people on the cheek when I say hello, but shake their hand instead — at many points in my life as an immigrant, I've had to learn new codes, like how to conduct myself in a job interview or at a party. I am forever grateful to Ana, Claudia and Marinela for welcoming me into their lives and trusting me and the team. They gave me a great gift: they reminded me of the power of being open to constantly learn and unlearn and to embrace the feeling of being both located and dislocated. It is through feeling "lost" that we can hopefully together reimagine new ways of seeing and engaging with each other outside of fixed categories and harmful stereotypes.
My Two Voices is screening both in-person at virtually at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Get tickets here.