3 SXSW Docs Para El Alma

Check out three soul-nourishing documentaries centered around our gente.

At the South by Southwest Conference and Festival, which runs through March 20, we’re keeping an eye on all things cultura from films to música featuring nuestra gente.

In honor of the resiliency our community has shown during these past two years and in celebration of the SXSW Film Festival’s in-person comeback, we’d like to highlight three documentaries screened at the festival so far that have nourished our souls. These films all beautifully weave together themes of home, identity and how place can strengthen our spirit.

“What We Leave Behind”

After an unprecedented period of loss and isolation during these pandemic times, this moving documentary feels especially poignant. Austin-based director Iliana Sosa immerses us in the life of her beloved grandfather Julián, who at 89, takes one last 17-hour bus ride from a small town in the Mexican state of Durango to El Paso, Texas, to visit his children and grandchildren.

Sosa documents her grandfather’s life in rural Mexico as he begins to build a part of his legacy – a new home to leave his family. Sosa’s film poetically envelops us into her grandfather’s world. But also, one can’t help but think of our own abuelitos and aging parents. Although deeply personal for Sosa, it’s also a universal look at familia.

Why is it soul nourishing? It’s a meaningful reminder that life is precious and each moment with our loved ones is fleeting and special.

➡ Stay updated about future screenings outside of the festival here.


“Santos: Skin to Skin”

Before YouTube tutorials, master percussionist and seven-time Grammy nominated Latin Jazz musician John Santos would encourage his musician buddies to listen to albums and recordings of different instrumentation in order to learn specific techniques by ear.

Known as a “keeper of the Afro-Caribbean flame,” Santos’ life and career rhythmically unfolds in this documentary by Kathryn Golden. We get to see how his Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean heritage help him connect Black and Brown communities through their shared musical roots.

Over the years, Santos’ heart hasn’t sought commercial success. Instead, he’s looked to his elders to pass down the oral traditions that give his music its spirit and pays it forward by teaching new generations. His fight to restore the Latin Jazz award category at the Grammys will ensure that future musicians dedicated to the genre can continue to receive recognition for their work.

But it’s not all about the music (although the film features some amazing concert performances with top artists). It’s an intimate portrait that also delves into the loss of his first child and how he’s been able to push forward.

Why is it soul nourishing? Not only are you moved by the music, but see how it has the power to heal, build bridges, and connect with our ancestral roots.

➡ Stay updated about future screenings outside of the festival here.


“Folk Frontera”

Life and culture in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands can feel fluid and interconnected. And in this 14-minute surrealist documentary, set in West Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the lives of two women show both the beauty and complexity of being fronterizas.

Although magical in how the two cultures intertwine, the political realities of the borderlands affect the daily lives of Gabriela Carballo, host of the Marfa Public Radio show “Border, Beats and Babes” and Molly Rodriguez, a white mariachi player who grew up in the bordertown Presidio, Texas, where her father serves as mayor.

Both fronterizas traverse the complexities of border life. Rodriguez navigates a binational marriage while waiting on immigration papers for her husband. Carballo worries whether this will be the year her visa will not be renewed.

Why is it soul nourishing? Big Bend is s-shaped and if you circle it on a map, it looks eerily similar to a yin-yang symbol, a Native People’s historian points out. “Two histories, two lands, two peoples, complementing each other…two realities but at the same time they are one thing. It’s the same land, the same river.”

➡ Stay updated about future screenings outside of the festival by following co-directors Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn.

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