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



Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Laura Manzi

‘Zamni' (2018) is one of the films that participated in the 2020 edition of the Global Migration Film Festival. The short film, which was selected to be screened at regional level by the Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, narrates the experiences and daily lives of four Haitian migrants in Chile and their integration process in the South American country.

In this interview, the young director Rubén Sánchez, tells what objectives and motivations guided him towards the creation of the short film.

Why did you choose young Haitian migrants as the protagonists of your work? Is there something in their profile that makes them different from other migrant communities in Chile?

What struck us is that the Haitian population here in Chile is the one that finds it most difficult to integrate into society. One of the main reasons is that they speak another language, the Creole language, and that is an even bigger barrier considering that Chilean Spanish has many idioms and tends to be spoken very quickly. Another obstacle to integration is the racism and rejection of some sectors of society towards the Haitian population: whether because of ethnicity, nationality, language or other prejudices. This leads to more segregation and not integration.

In the short film, there are many scenes that portray different landscapes: the sea, the forest, the city. What is the role of nature in the integration process of migrants?

Climatic conditions and landscapes can be a challenge for integration. For example, Haiti is very flat, there are no mountains and the climate is tropical. Here in Chile, nature and microclimates are quite diverse (the north has higher temperatures, the south is more humid and rainy, while the central zone is a mixture of these).
Nature, however, has also a symbolic purpose in the documentary. The mountain range, which characterizes the Chilean landscape, is the great frontier that any person faces to reach Chile. This justifies the scene that opens and closes the film and represents one of the protagonists in the Embalse del Yeso, which is a place here in Santiago, in the middle of the mountain range. We wanted to film those scenes there as a more oneiric way of representing this enormous wall that is like a border to cross in order to reach Chile, and that at the same time symbolizes the great wall that is in the cultural shock that the Haitian population faces.

‘Life is a circle. A perfect circle of which we are not a part': the protagonists in the film have jobs, go to school, learn Spanish. Then, what are the elements that continue to prevent their integration into the host community, this 'circle' from which they are excluded?

The cultural shock is big. If the host society lives this 'fear of the unknown', the Haitian migrant population in turn reacts and this generates a fear of the community where they live. The lack of integration is made difficult by prejudice and because initiatives that value cultural richness are not promoted. I think this is what we lack as a society: to be more educated. If there is no good education, there will be no people who cannot integrate; we still need to be educated and 'humanized'. I feel that in some way we are also 'dehumanized'. This is what the documentary wants to capture: to reflect on the humanity that we need, the humanity that we need to integrate others, to show that we are all really the same, we are all human beings and we all have dreams.

How much is the director visible in his work? How come are you interested in the subject of migration?

The issue of Haitian migration was, for me, a personal concern, because I live in one of the cities in Chile with the largest Haitian population. I used to witness daily this rejection of the Haitian population in the eyes of the people, in comments that were exchanged by whispering in the bus when I went to the university. I was worried about that.
Also, before I enrolled in audiovisual communication, I studied social work, and had many courses on the migration issue and related social policies. I did a lot of research on Haitian migration, which allowed me to capture the central idea of the short film. During the shooting process, I had the opportunity to meet these young people (Haitian migrants), to live their culture, to taste their food. I was filled with a culture that I didn't know, I was filled with knowledge, with a new experience. I wish this documentary could reach more people, change who we are and cultivate our humanity.