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The Velvet Light Trap 55 (2005) 33-38

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An Interview with Lourdes Portillo

Jean Lauer arranged an interview with Lourdes Portillo, a Mexican American independent filmmaker based in San Francisco, and helped draft a list of questions. When I learned I was going to be in the Bay Area at about the time that Ms. Portillo would be returning after a lengthy absence, we decided to do an old- fashioned, face-to-face interview. I met Lourdes Portillo on a warm day at the end of May 2004 at a coffee shop in San Francisco's Mission District. We sat outside on the patio drinking coffee and talking about film, politics, and what those things have to do with everyday life. Because I pressed "play" on the tape recorder instead of "record," the first portion of the interview has been reconstructed from memory and notes and via communication with Lourdes. The later section was transcribed from the tape. I have marked this change with three asterisks.

MB: So what are you working on right now?

LP: I really can't say. I'm between projects and I'm kind of confused. I can't talk about it because it won't make any sense.

MB: So can you talk about the project that you just finished?

LP: Yes. I've been traveling all over showing Señorita Extraviada and working to get something done around that issue. [The film tells the story of the over 370 kidnapped, raped, and murdered young women of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.] The murders continue to this day, and nothing was being done about it. So I've been traveling and showing the film and talking about the situation anywhere I can, all over the world. But I'm tired. I can't do it anymore. I need to pass that torch and move on to something else.

MB: So did the film and your work help to bring about some change?

LP: Well, [Mexican president] Vicente Fox has set up a committee to look into the killings in Juárez. And it has kept awareness up around what is going on in Juárez.

MB: It seems like sometimes this sort of film raises a lot of interest in an issue, and people get all involved,and then they forget about it and move on to the next cause that sparks their interest. Are you afraid of that happening?

LP: Not really, because there are so many people working toward change and toward solving this problem. And that's what I mean about passing the torch. I can stop working as hard on that as I have been for the past two years because I know that there are other people working to get that word out.

MB: This film seems to deal with some issues similar to other films of yours. Can you talk about how you've selected topics and why you've chosen the ones you have?

LP: Well, I guess that I have an interest in death very generally. I see life and death as the same thing really, and I think that is sort of a Mexican way of seeing it. I think that is part of what attracted me to Selena. [In 1999 Portillo released Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena, a film that explores the relationship between Mexican crossover pop phenom Selena and her fans.] I was also [End Page 33] interested in the way that fans related to Selena and the impact of her death and the way fans have kept her alive. Another thing that the two films share is attention to young women. I really feel that young women need to be protected but in a way that is about giving them the knowledge and information they need to stay safe. Selena is interesting in that sense because her father tried so hard to protect her, but he sheltered her. He didn't tell her, "There are these kinds of people who do these kinds of things." She didn't know.

MB: So...


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