Filmmaker Emilce Quevedo Díaz turns the camera on her family for powerful Colombian documentary, We The Women

by W. Andrew Powell

Filmmaker Emilce Quevedo Díaz brings light and connection to her family’s story of generational trauma in the documentary We The Women, with a deeply moving, sad, and yet hopeful glimpse into the past and present.

Díaz focused her camera on her own family in Colombia, as her Grandmother Sixta was facing serious health problems, but at first she didn’t realize the stories and the connections that she would uncover.

Through the stories of three generations of her family, in the countryside of Colombia, the family came together to care for their matriarch, and ultimately discovered hidden stories, abuse, and “the suffocating weight of religion.”

We The Women premiered at Hot Docs earlier this year, and it reveals so many important stories. During the festival I spoke with Emilce Quevedo Díaz about the film, her family, and the stories she tells in this moving, troubling, and yet remarkably hopeful documentary.

Emilce Quevedo Díaz
Emilce Quevedo Díaz

Was it difficult to convince your family to be part of your film? Because obviously it is so personal, so how did that conversation go?

“Initially, I started recording them with a tiny camera, it was a ‘photographic camera,’ and they didn’t know I was filming. They thought I was recording family moments; my grandmother was sick, and they were celebrating Mother’s Day, so I started to record her as if I was recording memories of that family diary in every house.”

“Later, on Mother’s Day, the idea for the documentary was born. Initially, I wanted to make a documentary about my missing brother, and on Mother’s Day when I saw they were gathered in a celebration, yet, there was so much pain between mothers and daughters; I said to myself: the documentary has to be a different one, and it will be about women and our lives.”

“At first I felt I was betraying them, as if I would publish something very intimate. Still, about a month later, in front of the camera, I asked each one for permission to publish those images, and I told them that I wanted to make a documentary about the story of all of them.”

“So far, I had not posted anything, I had only recorded, and my grandmother was about to die and told me: ‘This is the first time I’m going to talk about this. Relax, I’m leaving. You can make this material reach more people and make them reflect.'”

What kind of window would you say this offers into life in remote parts of the country, in the past or the present?

“In the movie, my grandmother remembers when she was little and a brother tried to abuse her several times sexually; those are the first memories of sexual abuse. She says to me, that time was not recorded; she told me: ‘a brother constantly tried to abuse me sexually since I was a child.’ Then she remembers when her mom forced her to live with my grandfather; my grandfather was 20 years older than my grandmother, my grandmother was 20, and my grandfather was 40. She also remembers her whole country life, since she was aware of being a girl and then a woman.”

“And it is not only my grandmother; it is the first generation, and then my mother, since she was a child too, my older sister, my aunts. [At this] moment when we gathered to take care of grandma, because she is going to die, they started some intimate conversations. They all started talking about the abuses, and three generations talked about similar abuses. Even though a hundred or a hundred and fifty years have passed, the stories are very similar.”

Do you think that talking about it has helped the family heal, and find any answers, or hope?

“Yes, the first thing is that the silence was broken, which is very important. The more we are in silence, the more things happen because we are filled with fear, and there is complicity.”

“So, the first thing is to dare to speak; the second, we talked as ten women in the documentary, and we realized that we all live similar stories and that I am not the only one who goes through this. Even though I lived all my life next to my sister, she was also going through the same thing. So it’s also like finding that support in others when talking, like finding that sorority that women talk about today.”

“And at the end of the film, my mother and sisters say: ‘When I spoke, I rested, I freed myself, I feel calm, my life changed, I think I can leave that past behind.'”

“My older sister decided to separate after 30 years of domestic abuse and she is only seven years older than me. She separated a year ago, and it has been a whole process of realizing, reflecting, and talking.”

“My father also abused my mother, but she had kept silent with her family; she had been saying all her life that my father was a very good husband, that he had never hit her, and with this film, she dares after many years of telling me not to publish it, a year ago she told me: ‘Your father also abused me.'”

“So, yes, I believe that talking and leaving fear behind and joining with other women and with the help of men to reflect on the past can make a difference for future generations and for the present women.”

As a filmmaker and a documentarian, did you learn a lot making this film? Is there now a mission that you want to go on next? Or where do you go from here?

“I started to make this documentary, and when I started to do it, I was angry with men because I began to find out many things I didn’t know about abuse, mistreatment of women close to me, and in general, not only that, but also with my friends, with my neighbour, so I started to see more broadly all these problems so strongly that I was angry with men.”

“But fortunately, what they said transformed me; I realized throughout the documentary that it is an extensive system, the patriarchal system that hurts men and women. It forces men to compete, not to express your emotions, not to allow that beautiful feminine part you have, to not resonate so easily with others as in tough terrain. For men, it forces them to be successful and socially visible, and for women, it also puts us in a place not of equality but inferior to men.”

“So, with time I began to realize in everyday life it is a matter of social ignorance and social disease, what we repeat and reproduce, men and women, because in addition to everything, it is true that men have had a lot of privileges and have seen women not as an equal but as someone over whom they have power. That is not right, but it is also true that we women repeat patriarchy with our upbringing, we also repeat many things of that system that does not do us good.”

“So both men and women have to start reflecting because there are unconscious daily repetitions, like some behaviours that we already have, so, of course, it helped me a lot to remember that the problem is bigger. This problem covers us all, and obviously men have had privileges and have been very strong with women, but for men there is also a pressure that if we could balance ourselves more and work more together, then things can be achieved; a relationship of equals can be achieved.”

“And on the other hand, I feel a total commitment to the issue. I have two daughters, 8 and 10 years old, and I feel committed to the girls who come from all over the world and start reflecting because we are changing, but there are small changes in each generation. So it is a constant system.”

“If I want to make more documentaries about women, sometimes people think that this is an old topic because it is from the countryside. It was many years ago, and it was my grandmother, but here in one of the biggest cities in the world, the same thing happens with women who have PhDs. In their homes, there is mistreatment; in their homes, there are unequal conditions for women. So I would like to explore that modern family and what is happening there.”

All images courtesy of Emilce Quevedo Díaz.

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