Señorita Extraviada (Lourdes Portillo, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 74 min

Lourdes Portillo is known for her documentary work on Latin America, particularly on the experiences of Latin American women. Her 1986 documentary (co-directed by Susana Blaustein Muñoz) Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo was nominated for an Oscar. In 2001 she released Señorita Extraviada, a haunting film investigating the ongoing serial murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Since 1993, over 300 young women have been killed in the border town of Juarez, and their murders remain unsolved. With this documentary, Portillo traces the history of these crimes, and the many developments and criticisms surrounding the thus far failed investigation. She speaks with the family members of many of the disappeared young women, as well as government officials involved. Throughout the film, Portillo shows the faces and names of many of these disappeared women; they are students, workers, and mothers, and they have all been brutally murdered.

No one knows for sure who the killers are, but there are layers of government and corporate complicity apparent in Portillo’s documentary. Juarez is a town filled with maquiladoras, which are manufacturing plants owned by foreign companies. These plants tend to employ young women, and many of the Juarez victims featured in this film disappeared from their jobs at the maquiladoras. Because these companies bring large amounts of jobs and revenue to Mexico, they often go unregulated, and many of Portillo’s subjects worry that the crime wave will continue unchecked. Moreover, as a border town, Juarez is a locus of drug trafficking, which is a further source of violence.

Since the release of Señorita Extraviada in 2001, the murders have sadly continued. The suggested reading below includes recent new coverage of the situation as well as work more directly concerning the filmmaker.

Watch the film on POV until May 31, 2011.

Further reading:

Rodriguez, Teresa. 2007. Daughters of Juárez. New York: Atria Books.

Washington Valdez, Diana. 2006. The Killing Fields. Los Angeles: Peace at the Border.

Michelle J. Martinez. “Cinema Chicana: An Interview with Lourdes Portillo.” Journal of Film and Video 62.1 (2010): 23-30. Project MUSE. Web.

Señorita Extraviada web site.

Caitlin Adams 4/24/11

El General (Natalia Almada, 2009)

Country of Origin: , ,
Running Time: 83 min

“If we can see the present clearly enough, we shall ask the right questions of the past.” Attributed to John Berger, this quotation appears a few minutes into Natalia Almada’s El General, and aptly describes the film’s path.

The titular figure is Almada’s late great-grandfather, her bisabuelo, General Plutarco Elías Calles. Calles was a central figure in the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s who became president of Mexico; his violent opposition to the Catholic Church was just one issue that continues to make him a contentious presence in Mexican history. He was exiled by a successor, but his final resting place is a monument to the revolution in Mexico City.

At moments, the film seems as though it might be an act of reconciliation. Almada incorporates audio recordings that chronicle the beginnings of her grandmother’s attempt to write the general’s biography. These recordings constitute a window into el general, the father. But how can this close familial view exist peacefully alongside the image of el general, the dictator—as some have called him? Ultimately, these conflicting stories are said to be just that—stories. They do not need to be reconciled. As Berger’s words imply, Almada turns primarily to the reality of the present in Mexico City, looking there for remnants of a tumultuous historical past. And therefore, despite the power of Almada’s grandmother’s tapes and of Almada’s use of archive from public histories, private histories, and narrative cinema, El General’s most meaningful images are those of present-day Mexican laborers. Almada intimately interacts with them through interview, and follows them in long takes as they cart commodities through the city. Almada gives them voice and they have various things to say about Mexican history, but their very existence also becomes something of a testament to the general’s legacy.


Brief interview with the filmmaker

Dissertation on the distribution of Mexican documentaries.



Michelle Citron’s “Fleeing from Documentary: Autobiographical Film/Video and the “Ethics of Responsibility””

Ella Shohat’s “Post-Third-Worldist culture”