Every time I talk to Lourdes Vasquez about film and social change, its easy to see that’s she’s excited to make a difference. Lourdes is a conscientious filmmaker who uses storytelling to show the interconnection of our past and present to foster positive social transformation. Born in Mexico City and raised in Arizona, she later returned to Arizona to travel life as a social and political activist. In 2005 she had the opportunity to live in Mumbai India to work as a researcher and concept developer for documentaries. She realized the importance of communication and diverse community learning to elevate communities. This philosophy led her to start three ventures: The Immigration Paradox, Embracing Humanity, Inc and Deep Focus Cinema. She also currently teaches Documentary Production at Arizona State University.
Tell me about your inspiration for filmmaking.
It grew during my college years at UC Santa Cruz. I majored in Film & Digital Media and we studied a lot of film theory and did a lot of psychoanalysis for films. At the same time, I was also taking Latin American Studies, Women Studies and Psychology classes to keep a full schedule so I could keep my scholarship. […] I began to see film as a powerful tool to create positive social transformation because it enables one to condense time and space in order to show injustices, vicious cycles and paradoxes more overtly. I began to recognize how film not only had a huge influence over me but over many people as well, how so much of what our society is or believes in has been constructed through images. I remember having to read Orientalism by Edward Said and then analyzing many post-colonial films that showed how images have created an identity for cultures and wondering the same about “Latinaism.” This inspired me to use this powerful tool to create unity and a positive energy in our world.
After college I knew I wanted to make social issue oriented films because I became tired of reading (from the past) and seeing (in the present) how our humanity kept repeating the same [injustices]. Being an immigrant and growing up in an immigrant neighborhood and community naturally led me to focus on immigration. Right out of college I had the opportunity to volunteer as an activist for immigration, dropping water in the desert, registering people to vote, taking polls, visiting immigrants in jail and talking to those who were about to cross to the U.S. This also led me to work in several political campaigns and get a better sense of what was going on with immigration in Arizona and in Washington DC. I began to do more research of my own and felt most of the information that was being created was generating an atmosphere of division, fear and anger, due to mis-information and sensationalism.
That’s when I made the choice to begin filming what is now called The Immigration Paradox. Quite frankly at the time I did not feel prepared enough to begin a documentary, but my passion and curiosity was stronger than my weaknesses.
Tell me about the documentary.
After encountering an immigrant crossing the Arizona desert, I set out to understand why people would risk their lives to come to the U.S. My quest takes a shocking twist when I muster enough courage to cross the line at a protest and have an encounter with whom I believed was my enemy. From there on my journey, spanning 7 years searching for answers and solutions to this complex social issue, takes me and the audience to places never before considered in the immigration debate. […] This documentary will move you beyond the villain or victim scenario. No matter what your viewpoints or beliefs are regarding this deeply emotional issue; the information exposed will surely leave you shocked.
How can we inspire more youth to not only get into filmmaking but also documentaries?
By making them aware — educating them on the power of documentaries to create social transformation and meaning in their lives. To make it sustainable, diverse and long lasting the cinematic tools and mentorship needs to be more accessible to all youth. Most importantly they need audience support and presence in physical spaces, so they can feel the live energies of a crowd that creates a greater sense of responsibility and inspiration in a filmmaker.
You mentioned something really interesting about people just making films because its easy to grab a camera but what does it take to make quality over quantity?
I feel often times the power of film and video is taken for granted. People just film what is happening without analyzing how that will impact a society, a world or how some’s image will become crystallized in time and perhaps turned into a perpetual stereotype. Being more conscious takes effort and time, and time and effort brings quality.
I feel it’s an interrelated balance between conscious filmmaking and media literacy – one is the responsibility of the filmmaker the other is of the audience, it takes two to tango.
How does one find a sustainable topic/idea?
A lot of research goes into finding a topic: what sustains it is passion, curiosity, exploration, connecting the dots.
What are the Pros and Cons of being an independent filmmaker?
What I like most about being an independent filmmaker is creative freedom. I get to explore the topics I want. And when I say explore I mean really explore. I’ve been commissioned to do short documentaries and most of the times I am limited on the type of questions I can ask or am limited on the natural course of exploration. The way I like to do documentaries is by not knowing what the end will be, unfortunately when you work for someone they’d first like to know what the end will be. I understand we live in a business minded society and having the end in mind is an advantage point, but to truly explore the human condition, challenge stereotypes and find the deeper realities one must start with an open mind.
Cons, all responsibility lies on you, funding and distribution.
There are more resources now than ever before to make films, what’s your advice for young or new filmmakers?
It’s all in the story, the concept and the depth of your topic, that’s what makes a film timeless. Technology comes and goes, however authentic stories and in-depth topics remain.
What do you think about Phoenix as a filmmaking city?
It has the potential, but it needs more quality filmmakers. Too bad the tax incentives are poor relatively speaking and many films get made elsewhere. But we definitely have the potential to make quality films with so much going on in our growing city.
What’s next for you in filmmaking?
Creating the next documentary and getting into my first fictional work! I look forward to doing research and getting to know other perspectives, other worlds that will shift my paradigm and way of looking into humanity.
Watch the full documentary at www.tipmovie.com