With her first feature documentary, El lugar más pequeño (The Tiniest Place), Mexican-Salvadoran director Tatiana Huezo demonstrated a special sensitivity to the traumatic effects of violence, disappearance, and loss. The deeply moving portrait of a small Salvadoran community — her grandfather’s home town — that was wiped off the map during that country’s bloody civil war cemented her position as one of Latin America’s most promising non-fiction voices and won her accolades in countless film festivals across the world.
Then, as Huezo took time to meditate on a follow-up project, she received a box full of poems from Miryam Carbajal, a childhood friend whom she hadn’t seen in 10 years. As she read through the scraps of paper filled with dark but beautiful imagery she came to learn that Carbajal had been imprisoned for nearly a year in a violent Matamoros prison, victim of a corrupt system that arrested her on charges of human trafficking with no evidence. She was a “pagadora”: an innocent citizen who pays for the crimes of others; and while local officials basked in their supposed victory against organized crime, Carbajal was tortured, intimidated, and extorted for thousands of dollars by the drug cartels that ran the prison.
Huezo was understandably moved by her friend’s plight and set about documenting Carbajal’s return home to Cancun from Matamoros. Consisting of a wrenching voiceover interview and poetic imagery that captures subtle changes in landscape and light over the 1400 mile journey, Huezo made the daring decision to show us faces of nameless individuals while never presenting us with an image of Carbajal herself. After a year of research, 10 weeks of filming, and seven months of editing, the result is a powerful and heart-rending meditation on trauma, fear, and the violence inflicted by a deeply corrupt society upon her citizens.
Entitled Tempestad, Huezo’s second feature documentary premiered earlier this year as part of the official selection at the Berlin International Film Festival.