6 movies about Migration directed by Central American women

Film production in the Central American isthmus shows a rapid and constant growth in recent years. Dr. María Lourdes Cortés Pacheco, a Costa Rica and Central American cinema historian highlighted in the First International Congress of Central American Film (2017) at the University of Costa Rica that, although during the nineties throughout Central America only one fiction film was produced (El Silencio de Neto, Guatemala, 1994), in the last 17 years, more than 200 films of all genres have been released. Authors such as Hispano Durón and Dr. Cortés point out that in the last ten years, more films have been made in Central America than in the entire 20th century. This without mentioning the important contributions of the cinema of the Central American diaspora in the world film industry.

Particularly, one of the phenomena most represented in Central American cinema has been that of migration, represented not from a roadmovie narrative in which the characters seek their identity, but as a present dynamic in our societies in the face of violence and poverty; that is, migration as a dream for better living conditions, opportunity and dignity.

On the occasion of the International Day of Migrants (18/12) and the closing of the third International Film Festival on Migration (GMFF) in which IOM screened in more than 100 countries, documentaries, feature films and short films that explore the issues of migration and human mobility; and with the purpose of rescuing the role of the region in the creation of stories and discussions on one of the most important phenomena of our times, we share six productions made by Central American women to understand migration in our region, in two senses:


The permanent representative of Mexico in the United Nations, Juan José Gómez-Camacho, points out that, in Latin America, 60% of migration occurs within the region, that is, most of the migration is South-South or intraregional. In the case of Central America, the migratory flow from Nicaragua to Costa Rica stands out and is reflected in the same way in Central American productions whose stories are based on this migration. Among these are the documentaries La mesa feliz by Ishtar Yasin (Costa Rica, 2005) and the feature film El último comandante by Isabel Martínez and Vicente Ferraz (Costa Rica / Brazil, 2010), as well as:

1. El Camino, Ishtar Yasin (Costa Rica, 2008)Saslaya, a 12 year old girl, escapes from her native Nicaragua with her little brother in search of their mother, who emigrated 8 years ago to neighboring Costa Rica. The fiction merges with documentary, poetry and reality.

El Camino is the first feature film by Costa Rican director Ishtar Yasin, which narrates the migration of two unaccompanied migrant children to Costa Rica. This fiction exposes some of the dangers they face, such as abuse of power and sexual exploitation. El Camino highlights the multi-causality of migration such as exploitation and even family reunification.

In Pantalla Rota: Cien años de Cine en Centroamérica, María Lourdes Cortés writes that the 90s brought with it new voices and social issues such as migration, ecology and the role of women at the forefront with documentary as the ideal genre to address these end-of-century issues.

Within this line of work is the docummentary Más allá de las fronteras (1998) by Maureen Jiménez which addresses the migration of adolescents, as well as the work by feminists directors that underscore the phenomenon of female migration such as:

2. Desde el barro al sur, María José Álvarez, Martha Clarissa Hernández (Nicaragua, 2002): Documentary film that records and sets the stage for Nicaragua, the forced journey of thousands of migrants and represents, through its characters, different strategies to survive in Costa Rica. For the most part, voices and images of women illustrate this story and describe the eternal journey that poverty makes of their lives. Migrants in their own land, victims of a post-war society and subject to the new economic order of the world market.



Similar to these Central American women, the main works of Salvadoran director Marcela Zamora Chamorro are documentary films in which she develops the theme of human rights and gender. Among her works is:

3. El Espejo Roto (2011), Marcela Zamora (El Salvador, 2011): The documentary reveals the violence that affects children in high risk communities in El Salvador, as well as the role of single mothers, heads of household in vulnerable environments and the social costs of migration. With the support of UNFPA, UNDP, IOM and UNICEF.

4. María en Tierra de Nadie, Marcela Zamora (México-El Salvador-España, 2010)An unprecedented and intimate look at the irregular and extremely dangerous journey of three Salvadoran women to the United States. Doña Inés, a 60-year-old woman, has been searching for her daughter for five years and is following the same route her daughter took. Marta and Sandra, tired of the violence of their husbands and wanting to overcome poverty, decide to leave their families behind to travel to the United States, with only thirty dollars in their pockets. During their heartbreaking trip, the three women encounter prostitution, human trafficking, rape, kidnapping and even death, in an unwavering quest for a better life.


Likewise, the documentary project of Casa en Tierra Ajena (2017), selected for our previous edition of the Global Migration Film Festival (2017), directed by Ivanna Villalobos and based on the book No más Muros, by Costa Rican academic Carlos Sandoval, investigates the main expulsion factors and control mechanisms that are imposed on migrants, as well as the solidarity that is woven without borders:

5. Casa en Tierra Ajena, Ivanna Villalobos (Costa Rica, 2017): Is a documentary that tells the stories and dreams of various people who are in process of forced migration in Central America. It also recovers the voices of those who have remained in their countries resisting and transforming their realities. (Watch here)

Finally, unlike the documentary film that has distinguished itself as an important genre to expose and explore the causes and high risk journeys of migration in our Central American countries, the Guatemalan director Gloria Griselda belonging to the diaspora in the United States, develops the following fiction feature film:

6. Ambiguity: Crónica de un Sueño Americano (Guatemala/EEUU, 2014): Ambiguity is an action, drama, suspense and adventure film that reveals the reality of irregular immigration to the United States.

According to Leonard Doyle, in charge of the IOM's Division of Communications and Media, "Film and migration have a historical link that stretches back more than a century as filmmakers, many of whom were migrants themselves, began making movies that depicted a world on the move". 

The GMFF feautres films and documentaries that capture the promise and challenges of migration, and the unique contributions that migrants make to their new communities. We hope that in the same way this list of films and documentaries will inform, inspire, transform and promote inclusion and respect for migrants, as well as the creation of a regional dialogue on migration in our societies.


GMFF Official Selection 2018



Migrants´ Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making

Migrants´ Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor


For the fifth consecutive year IOM Missing Migrants Project reports that more than 4,000 people are believed to have died or gone missing on migratory routes across the globe. In 2018 alone, 393 deaths were registered on the US-Mexico border. Likewise, the US Border Patrol has reported that, from 1998 to 2016, over 6900 people have died trying to cross irregularly.

Media, NGOs and government initiatives, such as Mexico´s “Programa Frontera Sur”, have increased the visibility of dangerous and sometimes deadly migration journeys, yet there are still migrants attempting to cross rivers, deserts and other barriers through irregular pathways. 

In the face with these risks and considering that, apparently, the decision to migrate is affected both by external factors (economic, social, cultural), and personal factors (gender, wealth, social networks), how do migrants value migration options? How do they decide where to migrate, how to migrate, a possible return, or even not to migrate?

According to the World Migration Report 2018, all migration theories consider the migrants´ “self-agency” (I.e. migrants´ abilities to make and act upon independent choice or decisions) or a lack thereof in an attempt to understand migration patterns, processes and consequences.

The following consists of a summary of some the findings in recent research, migrant-centric, on migrant decision-making and experiences that should serve as guideline to understanding decisions, about risk and risk-taking migration journeys, including risk of death:



  • The main source of information for migrants is from close social connections. Families, friends and network sources (in social, not geographic terms) are more trusted than official sources.
  • Social media and telecommunications applications (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube) have become an important source of information. These platforms are used to share information regarding routes, potential risks and rewards of certain transits, asylum practices, political and legislative situations, welfare benefits, destinations and contact information for potential smugglers and even travelling companions.



  • In the absence of accessible regular migration options migrants opt for irregular migration and/or high risk-journeys. On the off hand, people who are more restricted in their ability to migrate internationally (determined by nationality or otherwise), migrate to less desirable, but accessible countries. This is supported by current data on international migrants, for example, although United States is the preferred destination country in the world, it has been showed that a large share of international migration takes place between south-south regions and countries.
  • Migrants are aware of the risks posed by irregular migration journeys. Studies have shown that in the face of high-risk journeys migrants adopt several psychological strategies to lessen the pain.
  • International migration as a survival strategy. For other groups, such as those marginalized in origin countries, migration provides access to resources and safety. For some communities´ the potential reward even if for the next generation or kinship needs to be acknowledged. From migrants´ perspectives, irregular asylum migration can sometimes be the only option available, despite the risks involved, for some it is a safer option than what they are leaving behind. 



  • Migration decisions have increased in social significance and a “culture” of migration has increasingly emerged. Findings show there is an increasing reliance of remittances as key components of household incomes in the origin countries. However, in some communities the “migration cultures” has extended: from a survival strategy at the lack of economic opportunities, to a social competition in which those who decide to stay behind or who cannot move, are stigmatized.



  • When possible, migrants will choose to migrate through regular pathways on visas than irregularly. It is safer and travel options are far greater.
  • In the absence of accessible protection options people sought alternatives available to them, such as labour migration. In some cases, this kind of migration is considered as an alternative for people who could be refugees in a destination country, over asylum via irregular pathways. The preference to be law-abiding extends even to their migration status after arrival, since remaining within the law may have positive implications for return to the origin country, as well as for any future international migration plans that may eventuate.

These findings help us reach a better understanding of the extent to which a person consider taking high risks under the potential reward and opportunities of a better life (however defined). As stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres, on International Migrants Day, behind every migration number there is a person – a woman, a child, a man, with the same dreams as everyone: opportunity, dignity and a better life.