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



The missing link: using new data for migration governance

Autor: Guest Contributor

The lack of consistent data and collection techniques among countries inhibits the accurate identification of migration trends, as well as the impact that migration has on the institutional framework, economy and wellbeing of people in a country or region.

What are the challenges in migration data?

The first objective for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration stresses the importance of investing in the collection and use of accurate data to conduct evidence-based policy-making.

However, due to lack of technical resources, human capacity and/or funding, many states share limitations in the systematic collection and management of migration data.

According to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, there is more data collected on topics like migrant stocks and remittances, whereas topics such as migration flows, smuggling, migrant health, integration and the impact of migration policies have significant data gaps.

Many developing states simply don’t have the capacity to collect and systematize data at a nationwide scale. For example, according to IOM’s regional report, all ten Commonwealth Caribbean countries have departments or offices dedicated to the development of statistical information, but Jamaica is the only country which has collected migration data that can be systematically disaggregated.

Disaggregated data is particularly valuable, allowing states and organizations to have information on people that is comparable by sex, age, migration status and other relevant characteristics. This way, needs for specific migrant groups like children or women can be made visible and addressed.

The gaps in migrant data can also be largely attributed to the lack of mechanisms that facilitate information sharing between different government agencies and organisms.

All countries maintain records on entries and exits, visas, and permits, but many of them implement different data collection and management practices. Thus, policies between and in states are sometimes incoherent, and countries must work with only patches of information, which restricts their ability to apply a holistic government approach to migration governance.

Amidst these challenges, countries and the international community continue to work towards effectively filling these gaps to attend peoples’ needs.

The promise of new data

In the past, the main method of collecting data was through traditional sources like household surveys, national censuses and administrative records. These sources have a high cost and limitations, like inflexible designs in surveys for example.

Today, new or innovative data sources such as geospatial data, satellite imagery, mobile device data and social media data are gaining momentum fast. These sources represent a huge opportunity given the increased availability of digital records, wider coverage, timeliness, and practically no limitations on how frequently the information can be updated.

The potential applications of new data for migration seem promising. Big data in particular can help anticipate migration trends and movements based on data from social media platforms like Facebook or even from online searches. This same data can also contribute to monitoring public opinion and media discourse on migration at a much lower cost than public surveys.

Nevertheless, the use of new data (especially big data) presents several challenges:

  • Ethical and privacy issues: Automatically generated data raises concerns about confidentiality, misuse and security risks such as surveillance. In the case of IOM, our Data Protection Manual outlines our principles and standards for data governance.
  • Information bias: Big data is inherently biased. Social media and mobile phone users naturally do not represent the entire population, since some segments are over-represented, while other segments don’t use or have access to technology due to factors such as age, sex and economic level. 
  • Technical challenges: Data held by private actors or government entities may be difficult to access or use due to security or legal reasons. One could also encounter weak security systems and inappropriate infrastructure for data collection and management. Additionally, technological change and innovation occur at a fast pace, leading to issues of data continuity.

The way we process and share information is changing, so it’s only responsible that we also work on integrating new and traditional methods with new ones, while improving expertise in new types of data, data analytics (such as machine learning) and use. For management and use, interagency coordination is key, as well as the collaboration with both private and public sectors to transform data into policies that impact real people’s lives and contribute to sustainable development.

Along this line, IOM is currently in the process of implementing a project financed by the International Development Fund (IDF) to strengthen the institutional capacities for migration through the development of a migration information system that will allow Mesoamerican and Caribbean countries to have data on migration relevant for the design of migration policies. 

One of the main activities of this project consists of creating a Regional Network for the development of a Virtual Information Platform for Migration Governance (VIPMG). This Network will work on the exchange of migratory information (records of international arrivals and departures, residences, returns and other administrative data), as well as strengthening coordination and information flows between countries.

This platform aims to include preliminary statistics and analytics of administrative data to provide decision-makers with evidence-based information to support policy-making, thus assisting in improving data management capacities in order to use administrative data to its full potential, and provide information to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals related to migration.

The Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) also aims to fill gaps in data migration(such as data on returning migrants and registration coverage) and enable informed decision-making, but is focused on populations in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). NTMI has generated reliable information on migration, displacement and its relationship with development for its stakeholders in the region. 

Other resources:

IOM’s Migration Data Portal: https://migrationdataportal.org/

IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS): https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/IBM/updated/midas-brochure18-v7-en_digital-2606.pdf

UN Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics: https://unstats.un.org/bigdata/

IOM report, More than numbers: How data can have real impact on migration governancehttps://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/public%20sector/our%20insights/how%20migration%20data%20can%20deliver%20real%20life%20benefits%20for%20migrants%20and%20governments/more-than-numbers.ashx

 Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) project (Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el Triángulo Norte): https://mic.iom.int/