As Venezuelan American writer, director and actress Maria Corina Ramírez thought about penning a script about her family’s experience living in the United States after fleeing Venezuela, she wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in another film about immigration.
“At first, I didn’t even know if I wanted to tell this story,” Ramírez told Remezcla during an interview last month about her new film Bridges, which is making its debut at the Miami Film Festival this weekend. “I didn’t think anyone would care. Every time I saw a story about the undocumented experience, I felt like it was so dramatic, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go there.”
Bridges tells the story of Maria Cecilia (Maria Corina Ramírez), a high school valedictorian in Miami, who is originally from Venezuela, living in the shadows because of her undocumented status. As graduation day approaches, Maria Cecilia must confront the reality of her situation as she watches her classmates make big plans for their futures while her life remains in limbo.
The character of Maria Cecilia is based on Ramírez’s older sister. Ramirez was born in Venezuela and came with her family to the United States in 1997 on a tourist visa when she was eight years old. Her father, who was a lawyer, stayed behind and kept his pulse on the political turmoil that was happening in Venezuela at the time. As a family, they decided it wasn’t safe for them to go back. As she grappled about whether she wanted to write the screenplay, Ramírez realized that it was a narrative that needed to be told by someone who experienced it and not by “white executives trying to exploit” what she and her family had gone through.
“It was a painful story,” Ramírez said. “But I knew if I told it from my heart, it would be different. Then I thought, ‘OK, I’m writing [the film], so maybe I should play [my sister], too. The story was so close to me that I wanted to take care of it and make sure it was authentic.”
Ramírez, who also directs the film, said about 90% of the final picture is based on actual events. This includes the character based on Ramirez as a little girl being obsessed with winning the lottery—something she calls “blind optimism” today.
“I was always a very precocious child,” she said. “I was always aware of what was happening. I knew how dire [our family’s] situation was, but I knew we had to keep plowing and find something to cling to because otherwise it would’ve been too scary. I guess playing the lottery was like a coping mechanism.”
Although her entire family are now U.S. citizens, Ramírez said she still gets emotional when she travels with her passport. She understands the sacrifices her mom made to get her family to a safe place and give her and her sister an opportunity to lead successful lives.
“I’m just so grateful, and I’m also so aware of the privilege that it is,” Ramírez said. “My mom did that for us. Now, I have to be brave enough to tell that story. I have a responsibility, not just to her, but to all the other people who have similar stories.”
Bridges makes its debut on Sunday (March 7) at the Miami Film Festival and virtually on Monday (March 8). To purchase tickets, visit the MFF website.