One-one-One Q&A: Lucia Gajá- Director, "My Life Inside"
In May, I met Lucia Gajá at the Tribeca Film Festival during a press meet and greet at the filmmaker lounge. She told me about her documentary My Life Inside, about a woman from Mexico named Rosa who was sentenced to what basically equates to life in prison on the counts of homicide and injury to a child she was looking after. I was unable to see the film at Tribeca, but soon learned that it would also be playing at Silverdocs, so I got in contact with the Silverdocs press team and they sent me a DVD screener of the film, which I watched and found very compelling. While the film focuses on Rosa's personal story, it also makes a bolder statement on how illegal immigrants are treated in the American judicial system. I met up with Lucia at Silverdocs for a One-on-One Q&A.
TFPN: How was it getting access and permission to shoot inside both the courtroom and the correctional complex? Did you face any difficulties?
Gajá: The whole process was made by Carmen Cortes. She's the one from the consulate in the film who explained all the things that happen to women when they go to jail. She had really good relationships with the jail and in the courtroom. We asked for permission from the judge because he was the only one that allowed cameras inside the court. We said we were making this documentary and he said, 'OK, we'll see how it goes,' and slowly we were able to shoot the whole 12 days of the trial. We also went several times to the jail to interview Rosa. Each time, they treated us really well. They gave us permission to be with her as long as we needed.
TFPN: How come they were more fair to you than they were to Rosa?
Gajá: I don't know. That's one really interesting thing. It depends on different people. Hank, the policeman who's in the movie, talks about how he helped Mexicans to live better by asking the home owners to improve their houses. I think there is a very important movement in Austin that's supports migrants. This is different than what happened in the film. We never had any problems to make this movie. The film commission helped us when he had to get shots on the street. That's the thing that's contrary to what happened to Rosa in court.
TFPN: Did you originally start out doing a documentary just about Rosa or was it more about illegal immigration?
Gajá: Originally I wanted to do a documentary about Mexican men on death row in the U.S., but it changed when I started reading a lot of books about Mexican women in American jails. So it became about conditions in jails in another country with another language and another culture without their families and how that changed their lives more drastically than being in jail in their own country. I spent four years looking for someone in the Mexican government who wanted me to make this documentary. It was really hard for me to find the cases. It was really hard for me to get access to the women. And then I met Carmen and she was very interested in me doing this film and got me these interviews with women who accepted to meet with me, and Rosa was one of them. I never heard or read anything about Rosa's case until I got to her. Carmen told me Rosa and other women like her in maximum security, could only make calls once every six months for five minutes. There is no physical contact or conjugal visits allowed. All those things, I couldn't imagine for a Mexican woman. Most of their families back in Mexico are never going to have a visa, so they're never going to see their mothers and fathers again.
TFPN: Did you have access to the family of the boy who killed?
Gajá: I've been reading things that I should have interviewed the family. This was really tragic and the mother was really upset. I really didn't want to go like a reporter to ask her how she felt, because I knew how she felt. I heard her testimony in court. She never said anything bad about Rosa. You can see the Uncle's testimony at the end. He is crying and asking for Rosa's forgiveness. He never expected for her to be sentenced this way. He was never really sure that she did it.
TFPN: What message do you want people to take from watching your film?
Gajá: At the beginning, I wanted to talk about migration and how there are some consequences that could end in a story like Rosa's. Maybe it's better not to go. Then I learned that's impossible. People are going to keep coming from Mexico and Central and South America because they are really trying to get a better life. The main message of my film is, they have rights and they don't know they have rights. They have a right if they get caught by the police, they can ask for someone from the consulate if they don't have a lawyer. They don't have to answer questions if they are not detained or arrested. This is just to be aware of what can happen.
TFPN: This theme also resonates in Juan Manuel Sepulveda's film The Infinite Border that also played at Silverdocs. What did you think of it?
Gajá: I really loved it. It's been in my head since I saw it. It's beautifully told. It is what he said he wanted to do. To put you a little bit in these people's time and place and state of mind. They are trying to cross Mexico to get to the United States. It's very important because that's another awful part of what happens when they try to cross Mexico.
TFPN: What's your next film project?
Gajá: I think I'm going to do something about domestic violence against women focused mainly in Mexico, though I know it's a problem all over the world.