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LAFF | Crossing Borders for Water: “Rehje” Directors Anais Huerta & Raúl Cuesta

LAFF | Crossing Borders for Water: "Rehje" Directors Anais Huerta & Raúl Cuesta

As a young girl, Antonia left her native village for work in the metropolis of Mexico City where she led a quietly unfulfilled existence. Now, middle-aged and widowed, she feels a deep-rooted calling to return to the quotidian lifestyle of her homeland. During a visit home, however, Antonia realizes things aren’t as she remembers. The sobering reality of the region’s lack of work and, even more alarming, scarcity of water force her to reevaluate her resolve to return. [Description courtesy of LAFF]

International Spotlight
Directed By: Anaïs Huerta, Raúl Cuesta
Producers: Raúl Cuesta, Anaís Huerta
Screenwriter: Anaís Huerta
Cinematographers: Carlos Hidalgo, Raúl Cuesta
Editors: Anaís Huerta, Raúl Cuesta, Samuel Larson
Music: Pascual Reyes
Mexico, 2009, 70 mins

[EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling International Spotlight and dramatic and documentary competition directors who have films screening at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.]

What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?

Initially we were attracted to filmmaking because it was at the crossroad of our passions: journalism, photography, cinema, literature and music. Through this new language, we were interested to talk about human feelings and society conflicts with images, not words. It was a big challenge. We were used to telling stories with words, not images.

For us, an image reveals more contradiction and complexity than a word. When you are directing a documentary you can’t control everything. You have to adapt yourself, and the reality is stronger and deeper than you. With this first feature, “Rehje,” we just feel that we are at the start of the road. We have to learn, experiment and discover more, and more, and more. That is the beauty of this work.

How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?

The Rehje project initially began during the March 2006 World Water Forum held in Mexico City. We wanted to introduce the problem of water and rural depopulation in the valley of Mexico through the story of a human being. We met Antonia while investigating about the Mazahua people in Mexico City. After spending a long and interesting time with different Mazahua communities and organizations in the countryside, we wanted to learn more about the migrants, their past and how they were living in the city.

We instantly got along with Antonia. She told us about her problems and her dreams, and invited us in her village. At the end of this trip, we knew that this was the story we were looking for, and we had a clear vision of the other topics that we would explore through her life: what it is like to be an Indian, to be a woman, to be an immigrant. Our objective was to deal with the problem of water through the story of Antonia, the story of a journey of a woman who is aware she cannot come back home.

How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?

While we were filming, the personality and the internal conflict facing Antonia became the main theme of the film. Whereas water scarcity is an abstract issue, Antonia’s pain and feelings were real, deep, strong. During the editing process, we found it difficult to put aside the problematic of water. Many documentarists face such issues: reality constantly impacts and modifies your work, and you need to adapt and change the structure of the film several times. When editing, it was difficult to deal with the different aspects of Antonia’s life whithout compromising the unity of the film.

Two filmmakers, Paula Markovitch and Carolina Rivas, provided us with some valuable advice and helped us build the last cut’s structure.
In order to be faithful to Antonia’s personal tone, we chose to use her voice to narrate the story. Her life is narrated through her voice over, and she sometimes faces the camera. We wanted to create empathy and understanding. We did not want to film a political pamphlet. The problems that we wanted to unveil are highlighted in the content of the documentary. Our aim was to bring human dimensions to and deeper insight into what is currently an abstract problem.

What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?

Being self-taught has been a mixed blessing. You feel free and passionate, but you suffer from lack of experience. Learning how to write a screenplay, supervise a team, and edit a movie takes time and requires maturity. Filming a movie means facing your own fears and insecurity, but also enables you to learn a lot about yourself and about human relationships.

The toughest part in filming was to work with other people and communicate our ideas about the movie to them. Our relation with Antonia and our point of view were very personal. It was not easy to make her and the other subjects understand precisely what we wanted. However, Antonia and her family were very cooperative and enthusiastic and we built a strong friendship together. We lived something like a catharsis together. Through Antonia’s story we dealt with our own loneliness, our own fear of being uprooted. Filming is a great way to get to know yourself while sharing something strong with others.

Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?

Before the shoot we thought that Antonia would come back to her hometown and leave the city definitely. But after a week in her village, Antonia had a sort of existential crisis. She realized that she couldn’t adapt herself to this new life, and she missed her sons and felt uprooted from her community. It was a very difficult and painful moment for her, and it wasn’t easy for us to understand what was happening. After a few hours of uncertainty we talked, and we told her that whatever she decided it was her story we wanted to tell. Finally “Rehje” ends with her decision to come back to Mexico City, the strength of reality overcomes our illusions.

What other genres or stories would you like to explore?

Nowadays, we are interested in working with this particular feeling of being uprooted, and we are interested in identity changes caused by migration in the countries we live in.

What other projects are you looking to do?

At the present time we have created a production company, Amaina Producciones, and we are working on a multimedia project called “All Of Us” (“Todos Nosotros”) about the Mexican identity, both in Mexico and in the United States. It is a series of twelve 3 to 5 minute-long portraits of Mexicans. We are using photographs and animation.

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