SxSW 2021 Interview – LUCHADORAS directors Paola Calvo & Patrick Jasim

Do you want to see real Female Superheroes in a Documentary? LUCHADORAS portrays the women of Ciudad Juarez as fighters, giving a new and different image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico. Our protagonists fight  in the Lucha Libre ring and in their daily lives, getting back up after each blow. They are women wrestlers who have been able to find their strength and courage despite living in the city of Femicides, constantly exposed to risky situations.

Having its World Premiere in the Global section of SxSW 2021 Online, we talk with filmmakers Paola Calvo & Patrick Jasim with LUCHADORAS. 

Welcome to SxSW! Is this your first SxSW experience?

Paola Calvo: Yes! we are very happy and looking forward to the start of the festival in this online version.We are trying to organize the work so that we can have the dates of the festival free and enjoy this experience to the fullest. 

Patrick Jasim: Popcorn is ready!!

So how did the LUCHADORAS doc project come together?

PC: Patrick and I had been following the events in Ciudad Juarez  for some time. It is devastating to know that there is a place known world wide  as the place of femicide. This is what you hear about Ciudad Juarez, also what you hear, most generally speaking, about Mexico. Phillip Kaminiak, with whom we set up our production company months later, was very supportive of our vision. So Patrick and I made a first trip to see what the place was like, and if it would be possible for us to make a film there. We came back highly  motivated, because we were in contact with wonderful women who would later become our protagonists. We immediately got the support of ZDF, a very important TV channel in Germany. So we returned to Juarez and stayed there for a few months. 

PJ: The shooting in Juarez was challenging because the danger is real. The uncertainty of knowing if you are in the right place at the right time is present several times a day. One of the first consequences of living in such a place is fear. So the most challenging part of making Luchadoras was to deal with our fears. Fear is something personal, individual, and – above all – irrational. So there were moments when for example I would feel afraid and Paola would have no problem. And vice versa. After a few weeks in Juarez we learned that the most important thing in this kind of place is to be part of a community; be it the wrestling community, the family, or your friends, being in a group is a way to be safe. 

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

PC: Making documentaries is an exciting way to understand and get to know the world. Understanding and getting to know different perspectives, different stories, different people. On many occasions, each project manages to make me aware of structures, ideas or even prejudices that I may have regarding specific topics. So at the end of the day, being able to make films is a form of personal growth. And, in the best of cases, I get to transmit to the viewer what I learned in the process. 

What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

PJ: Ciudad Juárez is a place where you can find yourself in danger quickly and unexpectedly. One of the big challenges was to find out if the film was feasible under the difficult security conditions in the city. Can we realize the film in the form and quality we envision?  Will we be trusted and can we build an intimacy to shoot in private space? And if so, what about the public space? The arenas, in the desert, on the streets where women are kidnapped and killed?

PC: Our protagonists have very different personalities. But they all have one thing in common: humor. They are super funny people, who despite living in such challenging conditions, always know how to bring a smile to their faces. We learned a lot from them, and they inspired us.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was made.

PC: Patrick is the DoP of the film. The aesthetic concept we developed was the logical consequence of the question and conception of the film.  The film should not simply answer the question of how it is to live as a woman in the city of women’s murders, but emotionally more precise not only the circumstances, the external represent, but the innermost conveyance. Feeling and attitude of women who are very aware of their situation and yet stand with self-confidence for a strong and new image of women. Closeness and directness were the major conceptual headings for the camera work.

PJ: Juárez is a place full of contradictions and it was important for us to portray them cinematically. In the representation of the city, transportation played an important role for us. Therefore cars (in the case of Mini Sirenita also buses) are important dramaturgical and visual places. Here the camera stays at eye level to be able to observe the city; the streets of Juárez that become lonely as soon as it gets dark, and the ever-present police cars with machine guns on the back. In contrast, the camera was to be completely free in the private space, allowing itself to portray the characters as winners, as heroines.

From the beginning it was planned to give LUCHADORAS different cinematic levels in order to show the complexity of the city and the characters. The first level was to delve into the heroic journey of the characters, deep into their lives, with a poetic visual language. The second level, the depiction of the Fights, training and preparations should be as raw and direct as one experiences them as a spectator in the small arenas. And a third level to open a new aesthetic space in which the struggles of the Fighters are brought outside the ring and stylized. Their self-image and heroic costumes are set against the stark brutality of the city. The desert where so many women were murdered, the border, and the trains that cross the city, which reveal with all their brutality the difference between the safe U.S. and Juarez, often only a few hundred meters away.  All to support the idea that the struggle of our women is not only in the ring but is larger and more universal and hopefully inspires far beyond the borders of Mexico.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW Online?

PC: I would like our protagonists to have access to the public, to have conversations with an audience, so that they understand the importance of the role they play in doing what they do. They are used to the wrestling audience, but I would love for them to have access to the movie audience as well. 

PJ: On the other hand we are also looking forward to getting in touch with other filmmakers, other festival programmers, and above all we are looking forward to music and film!

Clearly this is such a different time with virtual festivals and online screenings. How do you feel about releasing movies in this current format and how do you feel audiences will see most films in the future?

PC: to be honest, it’s a great pity that this year’s festival is only virtual. Ciudad Juarez is only about 6 hours drive from Austin, and it would have been great to organize the luchadoras to be present at the festival!

PJ:  At the same time an online festival also helps to make the films more accessible to the public, even if it’s only for a short time. The future I think is mixed, it’s time for theaters to go online as well, and show the films on their respective platforms. I am sure that after the pandemic many movie theaters will have closed, but it will not mean the end of cinema. 

Where is the movie going next? More festivals or a selective release?

PC: SXSW is the World Premier and It seems like the movie is gearing up to have a good festival run. We already know that several US Festivals  will show it and one of our favorite European festivals will too. After that we hope for a regular Cinema release if the COVID-19 situation allows it. But it will also be available online for sure.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?

PC: I would say that the most important thing to make films is to have perseverance. Long projects take a couple of years, at least, until they can come out. As a director and producer you have to have the ability to raise the money, make the film and then try to get it in front of an audience. Not everyone is going to support you the first time, and many people will tell you they don’t believe in the project. As long as you fight and believe, you will get it in the end. But you have to endure the battle.

PJ: Form a crew and stick together!  You need a team.  You can’t make the film alone. Communicate as clearly and accurately as you can, and above all treat the people you work with well. Try to make sure that you and your team can enjoy the experience of making the film as much as possible. 

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival? 

PC: Saudi Runaway, Susanne Regina Meures Berlinale 2020!

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to!

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