Vanishing Borders, My Documentary on Immigrant Women, Is Now Available on Vimeo

February 26, 2020 9:28 pm Published by Leave your thoughts


Versión en español.

The Night I Got My Dancing Wings

I was about 15 the first time I really enjoyed dancing in public. I’d spent a week in Rincón Grande, a summer camp hours away from Caracas, the Venezuelan city where I was born. On the last evening, we celebrated a week of games under the sun and secret love letters exchanged at night with a dance party. I’d had my share of dancing debacles, my body failing to follow the rhythm of my partner’s hips as merengue and salsa’s beat led everyone else’s graceful, coordinated movements. Although I began that night in Rincón Grande awkwardly tense in various partners’ arms, halfway through the evening something miraculous happened. Drum music emerged from the speakers, seductive and firm in its call. Everyone got into a circle and we all took turns walking into the middle of it, alone or in pairs, and moving however the music told us to move. After a moment in the limelight we’d return to dance together in the circle as someone else expressed themselves briefly and with flair. It was in the midst of that blend of community and individuality that I found my deep love of dancing. That day my dancing wings grew.

A year later I moved to the US and the drums became a rare event in my life, surfacing only during my periodic trips home to Venezuela. Then two weeks ago at the MSU Latinx Film Festival, I attended an event by the Detroit-based Puerto Rican band RicanStruction, led by activist, historian, and musician, Ozzie Rivera. As Ozzie and his nephew played the drums, three women in long skirts and ruffled shirts danced. Ozzie explained that this dance, called Bomba, dates back to the 1600s. Slaves on plantations would dance on Saturday nights as a way to cope with the horrors of slavery. Each dancer would enter the circle, ask for the head drummer’s blessing, and move however the music inspired them to until another dancer took their place. Although many of us who spent hours in these circles are unaware of that history, the tradition remains around the Caribbean, with each country giving it its own flavor.

As Ozzie told us about the tradition, we watched the three dancers each take their places and express a whole lifetime of happiness and despair with each playful move. Then we were all called to the stage, and one by one dozens of us took our turn and let the drums guide us. I had never been at an international drum circle like this one. Unlike my Venezuelan dancing experiences, here was a multitude of countries represented, each person moving to the history of their upbringing, to the sound of their languages and childhood songs. I was watching the US in all its richness in that moment, a community of people from a myriad of cultures coming together to celebrate our common humanity and the way our different backgrounds create a strange yet hypnotically beautiful dance. In that moment, I couldn’t have been prouder to be one of the voices in the American story.

My First Feature Vanishing Borders Is Available on Vimeo

on set with cast and crew of Vanishing Borders movie
My 2014 film, Vanishing Borders, which has been an official selection in film festivals on three continents and has screened at universities across the US, is now finally available to rent or buy on Vimeo. The film tells the story of four immigrant women living in New York City and transforming their communities with their work and activism. It is a hopeful story about the ways immigration enriches the lives of the immigrants who come here and of those they meet and with whom they share their culture, expertise, and stories. In this American election year, as we live under a president who is openly hostile to women and immigrants and who is running for reelection, this is a story that needs to be heard. I am always happy to video conference with classes for anyone who wishes to teach the film. We also have a guide for leading discussions with students that instructors can draw from.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

A young Alex being held by her mom with the cityscape of New York City in the background
My parents and I moved to Manhattan from Venezuela for a year when I was almost three years old in 1980. Although my dad had grown up in the US, New York was a new world to my mother and to me, a world we liked but in which we did not immediately feel at home. We took this photo from the Statue of Liberty weeks after our arrival. For years when I would look at it, the first thing that came to mind was the Twin Towers and the global wound they’ve left behind with their absence. Now I also look at the fact that I’m clearly wearing my father’s jacket instead of my own. Perhaps they had yet to buy me one to help me face my first winter. I also notice the conflict in my posture, at once holding on to my mother with my legs and trying to get away from her with the rest of my body—the gesture of wanting to belong without losing who we are, the eternal question for the immigrant. And then, of course, there’s a large river between the city and ourselves. A wall keeps us from the water and the water keeps us from the island where so much art, adventure, and love unfolds. And yet, there are bridges and boats and sheer desire to belong—even as we keep part of where we came from always alive. Moving to another country is an infinitely complicated act, but also one of the most generative and transformative things one can do. Wall or no wall, we’re here and we enrich the US as it enriches us.

We’re bringing Women Make Movies Co-Founder Ariel Dougherty to MSU on March 23

Young Ariel Dougherty with a film camera hold up a color block
I am very proud to announce that Ariel Dougherty—feminist filmmaker, iconic activist, and co-founder Women Make Movies—will visit Michigan State University in March. I will host a Q&A with her after her screening of two short films, Sheila Page’s The Women’s Happy Time Commune (1972) and Sweet Bananas (1973), which Ariel directed. The event will take place on Monday, March 23 from 7-9 p.m. in Room 145 of the College of Communications Arts and Sciences building (404 Wilson Rd, East Lansing). Please join us for groundbreaking filmmaking and for an evocative conversation about Ariel’s work.

I’ll Present Laura Huertas Millán’s Films at the MSU Broad Museum on March 10

I will be introducing and leading a discussion of Colombian filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán’s short films, which weave together stunning images of nature, portrayals of indigenous cultures, and experimental storytelling to create thought-provoking narratives about colonialism and its lingering effects on Latin America. The presentation will take place at the MSU Broad Museum on Tuesday, March 10 from 7-9 p.m.

My Short Documentary Teta Screened in the MSU Latinx Film Festival

Alex on a panel giving a talk about her film at the MSU Latinx Film Festival
We had a fantastic screening of my short documentary Teta: a nursing mother tells her story at the MSU Latinx Film Festival earlier this month. We were incredibly fortunate to have the film’s composer, Lena Miles, and the film’s website and poster designer, Hannah Countryman, present for the Q&A. Together we shared with the audience a multifaceted account of our filmmaking process.

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This post was written by Tiffany McIntyre

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