Alumna filmmaker draws inspiration from childhood

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Undocumented Films | Daily Texan Staff

Growing up, Cristina Ibarra spent hours in her father’s junkyard watching him as he built working vehicles out of unassembled pieces. This experience would leave a lasting impact on Ibarra’s future career as a filmmaker. 

“I think that I would say my upbringing within my dad’s junkyard actually, really was a kind of foreshadowing of how I saw film,” Ibarra said. “My dad would use all the parts of these junked cars to put together a new car and fix it or would just kind of create a new vehicle out of all these pieces.”

Ibarra, an independent filmmaker and UT alumnna, grew up between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. As a child, Ibarra never thought much about making movies mainly because she thought a career in filmmaking was out of reach.

“I didn’t have that dream when I was young because I didn’t know that you could make stuff,” Ibarra said. “I mean, as naïve as that sounds, I just felt like television or movies were things that these big companies made for you, and, if you don’t like what you’re watching, you just switch the channel.”

It wasn’t until Ibarra began taking college classes in both media studies and Chicano studies when she realized what she wanted to do with film. After going to a screening of the Hector Galan documentary “Los Mineros,” for class, Ibarra had an epiphany.

“By the time the lights went up, I was really transformed because I had realized for the first time I saw Mexican-Americans in front of the screen,” Ibarra said. “When I found out the filmmaker was Mexican-American, was Chicano, then I was sold into thinking, ‘Oh man, I have to do this.’”

Since graduating from UT in 1997, Ibarra has worked on six films, ranging from the fictional “Dirty Laundry,” a coming-of-age story made up of old home movies and TV footage, to her more recent documentaries, “The Last Conquistador” and “Las Marthas,” which both focus on border towns.

On Wednesday, Ibarra will be returning to UT to talk to students as part of the Center of Mexican American Studies and Latino Media Studies Program’s PláticArte series. 

“For the most part [the series is] open-ended.” said Luis Guevara, program coordinator for CMAS. “So, it will depend on reaching out to folks who might be interested in coming to the University, [or] suggestions that we receive from students, faculty or staff.”

The talk, “Cristina Ibarra: Reflections from a Border Filmmaker, From the Inside Out,” will be followed by a screening of Ibarra’s latest film, “Las Marthas.” The screening will be held by the Austin Film Society at the Marchesa Theater.

The documentary chronicles the journey of two teenage girls as they prepare for their debutante ball. The film explores the history of the ball and the annual bicultural celebration of George Washington’s birthday in the town of Laredo.

Chale Nafus, director of programming at the Austin Film Society, helped organize the screening and believes the event will draw a unique crowd.    

“It should be … an audience of diverse interests,” Nafus said. “I think [the film] will be a revelation for them the way it was for me.”

As for Ibarra, she hopes that the audience will be able to see a more multi-dimensional version of the Mexican-American border.

“We usually see the border described as this place where there’s a lot of social ills that are very urgent.” Ibarra said. “But we also can’t forget that there are families here, and people who fall in love here, and people who come of age, and so let’s look at the border from this perspective.”