Filmmaker Q&A with Director Ximena Amescua Cuenca

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Jean Rouch


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Working in very rural conditions and as a one woman crew was hard at times, I had no internet or phone service for most of the time. If I had any problems with the equipment the nearest place I could get assistance was a three hour drive. If I needed a second opinion on how to shoot or a professional advice about production I had to rely on myself. I had to learn to trust myself and that what would not work out, if I couldn’t see the problem and avoid it in the moment, then was probably meant to not work out for a reason. I knew from the beginning that this film would not be easy to distribute, and my intended audience was always an audience open to learning about this subject and that is already interested in these kinds of social issues. Since it’s not a propaganda film, or a call to action film, as an “impact film” it makes it harder to get audiences interested to watch it. But I purposely decided to make it more of an inspirational story instead of a conflict/resolution or call to action film, even knowing that it would make it harder to “sell”.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I hope that Juanita reminds them that each individual has the potential to overcome any obstacle through finding their true vocation and fighting for it. I hope that Juanita’s story and outlook on life inspires them to value theirs and gives them strength to overcome any issues they might be facing.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

– Traditional versus modern health practices in Mayan communities in Mexico.
-Discrimination against indigenous (mayan specifically) language and traditional practices.
– Domestic Violence
– The power of organization and organizations in the area.
– Education


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Juanita has been awarded a recognition by the state government as one of the three women whose work is most essential for the well being of the people in the state of Yucatan. The organization of “The Awakening of The Women Who Heal” has applied for a government funded grant that will allow them to purchase a space that will become the “house for the indigenous woman.” They are waiting on the results of the grant, but part of this short-film  as well as other footage I had was used in the application for the grant.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

There are NGOs, like  “Kookay”,  in the communities that work with Juanita’s organization as well as other indigenous men and women in protecting traditional practices, providing education programs about health, and violence, and many other issues.They take volunteers in many different areas and for various programs.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):




What motivated you to make this film?

When I had the chance to meet Juanita, her passion and dedication for her work immediately amazed me, as well as her kindness, which motivated me to make a film about her.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

I improvised most of the shooting, and had an observational visual style in mind, a “fly on the wall” kind of approach but it would depend on the feel of the situation. In the editing room, I decided to do the “day in the life” style to show Juanita as I saw her live her everyday life and work during the time I spent with her.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

One day, I was woken up at around 4:30 in the morning by Juanita, “bring your camera and hurry up,” she told me. One of her patients who was 8 months pregnant called her to say she thought she was about to give birth. We rushed to the patients house, me with my camera equipment and Juanita with her doctor’s bag. When we got there, the woman was sweating and lying on her hammock, speechless. Her husband and her mom were also in the small room with barely space for the five of us to stand. The tv was on in the background. “She’s here to film the birth if that’s okay?” Juanita asked the pregnant patient. She looked at her husband and he nodded to me in approval. I had a feeling they had agreed but weren’t very comfortable, so I decided to not turn the camera on just yet and I hand held it on my side ready for the right moment. Juanita began asking the patient some questions in Mayan and began to medically inspect her. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but the room was filling up with a lot of tension and they all seemed worried. After thirty minutes, Juanita signaled me to tell me we were leaving. On our way back to her house, she explained to me that she ordered the patient to go to a hospital immediately. She knew the baby wasn’t in the right position to have a natural birth, and the mom wasn’t strong or healthy enough either. She told me they were scared to go to a doctor and they also didn’t have money for the taxi. Juanita told me that she offered to lend them money for the taxi because she knew that if the patient had a natural home birth that the mom would surely die. That day, I learned another amazing quality about Juanita as a person and a midwife. Although she’s never had any tragic incidents during her long career as a midwife, I realized that she knew that knowing one’s own capabilities is as important as knowing one’s own limitations. In her case, understanding this, is usually a matter of the  life or death of her patients.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

I used what I had available to shoot with, which was an HD video camera, lav and shotgun mics, a tripod, and basically that was it.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

I didn’t know the structure of the film until I was in the editing room. While shooting, I had a scene list and ideas in mind for a story but as I got closer to Juanita, and we both talked about her work, and her personal life, I switched my focus from the details of her work practice, and skills, to her as a person and an empowered woman.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

The overall experience of learning about the traditional medicine practices that this incredibly hardworking, and knowledgeable group of women practice everyday, and their work as part of the midwives organization of traditional healers. Learning about what they have created as an organization and personally accomplished. Getting to know more about my own culture and country as well.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

The possibility as a filmmaker to create impact does not start or end within the time frame of the film. It can happen from the very beginning of the entire process with the conception of an idea, and it does not necessarily have an end.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Being behind the camera. It’s an experience that I find meditative, exciting, and at times like being in a trance.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

My journal. It’s therapeutic and very useful to keep track of my thought process and feelings during the experience of working in the field.



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