Director Arturo González Villaseñor on Telling the Story of Las Patronas, the Women Who Feed Immigrants

First time filmmaker Arturo González Villaseñor has been traveling to film festivals to present his documentary Llévate mis amores to enthusiastic audiences across the U.S. and Mexico.

The film tells the story of Las Patronas, a group of women in a small town in Veracruz who help immigrants as they cross Mexico on their way to the U.S. Perched on high-speed trains, the young travelers reach out to grab the bags of food that the women have ready for them. Llévate mis amores skillfully combines interviews with action shots to construct a moving, heartfelt story. The doc often returns to images of the fleeing train as the leitmotif that pushes the movie forward with vigor.

We caught up with the Mexican director to talk about the inspiration for his film and the sometimes unfortunate need to translate movie titles from their original language.

How was Llévate mis amores born?

I’ve always thought that projects choose you, instead of you choosing them. Opportunities come to you in life, like this one that was presented to me, without me seeking it. I visited a community radio [station] in Veracruz through my university. There I met the group of women called Las Patronas. Gradually, I realized that I wanted to tell a story while I was there with them. Not only about their work and the topic of immigration, but about the dedication and love with which they carry out their work.

Tell us about Las Patronas.

They are a group of 10 to 13 women; the number varies depending on the season. While some appear in the film more than others, I was interested in giving voice to all of them. It seemed important to me to have them describe themselves – who they are as human beings. I realized that it was very easy for me to describe them. You and I could say that they are magnificent women; we could label them with all kinds of positive adjectives. But when I asked them who they are, they would describe themselves by highlighting their flaws. That impressed me. Despite what they are and what they do, they do not glorify themselves. It is a selfless love. They just care about the simple fact of helping people out.

When did you start with the production of the film?

I began by writing a story, including several tasks the women do every day. Such as them cooking the rice, which is not white but red, because white rice is flavorless. There’s a tremendous dedication in that choice. “Not only am I feeding you, but I’m really giving you something that I would eat myself – yummy, tasty, and hot.” The story also included the dedication with which they carry water from the well and fill the plastic bottles one by one.

After writing the story, as a film crew we opened ourselves to being present and witnessing what happened around us. Sometimes the trains did not come, or passed by very fast. The scene where the boy falls off the train and cannot climb back happened by chance.

The camera ended up being another character in the film. Many times, the film crew had to carry water buckets; we had to give a migrant a ride with the truck, or carry the bags of food. And the women had to run with us [while we were] carrying the tripod, camera, microphone… They were part of the film crew and we did not feel like strangers to them, but like people who had always been with them.

Yes, you won their confidence, and it comes through beautifully in the film.

They saw the camera as a channel through which they could express themselves. They talked to the camera, but they were really talking to me as a friend. For the first time someone asked them, “How are you doing, how are you feeling?” That helped a lot in having them open up. They confided many things to the camera that they had never shared with each other. As a matter of fact, their confessions brought about frictions among the group. They had been filmed in the past for other films, but they saw that my film was not about immigration, but rather, a film about them.

The English title, All of me, is very unfortunate.

It’s horrible. As a filmmaker, you don’t like to give your creation a different name. But I was told that there must be an English title, because festivals request it. It was an issue that I did not want to get into, a decision that I did not want to take. For me, it will always be Llévate mis amores.

Why Llévate mis amores?

The title embraces everything they do. The love that they put in cooking the food, the love they put into words of encouragement they give to the migrants, motherly love, the love of a son, the love one of them feels for the migrant they fell in love with.

And the “llévate” part is because when someone says it, it ‘s because you are in a hurry, because you cannot stay. It’s that fleeting moment that doesn’t come back. Llévate mis amores describes the moment when the women hand the food [to the migrants] as the train passes by. That bag of food contains all the love they give for them.

Are you working on something new?

I have a new project that deals with the importance of starting a revolution and trying to understand what it means – how a group of people who think alike may be able to change the history or circumstances of a country. It follows a character that was emblematic in a revolution. The voice over tells his story based on real events, and then we follow him on a trip where he tours a number of key sites [where people] took up arms. This part is fictionalized, but the idea is to inspire young people.