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Research Article

Reproductive rights, othered women, and the making of feminist documentary in Latin America

Received 17 Mar 2020
Accepted 05 Jan 2022
Published online: 13 Feb 2022


Cine Mujer was the name of two feminist film collectives, one founded in Mexico (1975–1986) and the other in Colombia (1978–1999). Sharing the same name but with no ties between each other, these collectives produced films that provided different representations of women, politicized personal experiences and domestic spaces, and promoted processes of consciousness-raising. Broadly, this article looks at the Cine Mujer collectives as part of a larger phenomenon that, although informed by second-wave feminism and the New Latin American Cinema, can be better understood within the singular complexity of Latin American women’s movements. Specifically, it analyses two documentaries, Cosas de mujeres (1978) and Carmen Carrascal (1982), produced by the Cine Mujer collectives in Mexico and Colombia, respectively. Drawing on Laura Marks’ work on hybridity, excess, and haptic visuality, this article explores the relation between modes of production and representation in these films and positions them as emblematic examples of a formative moment in Latin American feminist documentary. By emphasizing the emotional and sensorial appeal of these films, this article also attempts to expand what is understood by political cinema.

He gave me an injection to sleep, but I didn’t fall asleep completely. Then I felt that he was on top of me. I couldn’t do anything because I fell asleep and when I woke up, he told me it was all over. I felt an intense rage because my body had been used without me wanting it. Besides, I felt like shit, completely rubbish.

This quote is an extract of the testimony intercut throughout the film Cosas de mujeres (Rosa Martha Fernández, México, 1978). The man who raped this woman was the doctor that had to procure her a clandestine abortion. With a very different approach, the quivering voice of the protagonist of Carmen Carrascal (Eulalia Carrizosa, Colombia, 1982)—an artisan and illiterate woman who lives in a remote area of the countryside with two of her nine children and her husband—also stresses the burden of motherhood. She says: “I don’t want to have any more. I have nine children; I don’t want to have more. But if God gives me another, I can do nothing. I have to give birth whether I want to or not.” Far from the contemporary feminist debates on reproductive rights, Carrascal is an embodiment of those women who were often othered by second-wave feminism. These two films were produced by the feminist film collectives Cine Mujer in Mexico and Colombia, respectively, during the heyday of feminism in the region. Drawing on Laura Marks’ work on hybridity, excess, and haptic visuality, this article explores the relation between modes of production and representation in these films and positions them as emblematic examples of a formative moment in Latin American feminist documentary. By emphasizing the emotional and sensorial appeal of these films, this article also attempts to expand what is understood by political cinema.

Latin American feminist film collectives were formed across the region during the 1970s to support the women’s movements with audio-visual content. These films offered “counter-hegemonic representations of women” (Ilene Goldman 2002, 242), politicized personal experiences and domestic spaces, and promoted processes of consciousness-raising, as well as contributing to the making of a Latin America feminist cinema. For several reasons, the study of Latin American feminist cinema of the 1970s and 1980s has received little scholarly attention. It is not the purpose of this article to address these reasons in depth, but to highlight and briefly summarize two of them. Firstly, the prominence of the New Latin American Cinema and its failure “to challenge the (under) representation of, give voice to, or involve, women” (Lorena Cervera Ferrer 2020, 152) inadvertently cast a shadow that continues to obscure the work of Latin American women filmmakers. Secondly, unlike in anglophone and European countries, the development of feminist cinema was not accompanied by the creation of a circuit of women’s film festivals that exhibited these films or by scholarly research and criticism that paid attention to this phenomenon.1

In recent years, the digitalization of the original 16 mm copies and videotapes by film institutions and universities has enormously facilitated the access to Latin American feminist films of the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, research on this field has flourished. However, most of these contributions tend to focus on a single collective, filmmaker, or a specific country. This has been the case with the Cine Mujer collectives. Despite the numerous similarities between them, these collectives have only been addressed separately, thereby leading to a fragmentary understanding of their significance and impact. The research published on the Mexican Cine Mujer has primarily focused on its history and production as well as the continuities and discontinuities with second-wave feminism and the New Latin American Cinema (Márgara Millán 1999; Elissa. J. Rashkin 2001; Gabriela Aceves 2013; Elena Oroz 2018; Israel Rodríguez 2019). The work on the Colombian Cine Mujer has also covered its history and production, and has paid more attention to formal analysis of some of its films (Julia Lesage 1990; Ilene Goldman 2002; Paola Arboleda Ríos and Diana Patricia Osorio 2003; Deborah Martin 2012; Juana Suárez 2012; Lorena Cervera Ferrer 2020).

This article builds from and contributes to the corpus of work that is dedicated to the re-historization and theorization of Latin American political cinema from a feminist perspective.2 Broadly, it looks at the Cine Mujer collectives as part of a larger phenomenon that, although informed by second-wave feminism and the New Latin American Cinema, can be better understood as an intrinsic component within the singular complexity of Latin American feminist and women’s movements. Specifically, it focuses on a formal analysis of two films, Cosas de mujeres and Carmen Carrascal.

Cosas de mujeres was produced in close alliance with the Mexican women’s movement and combines a mixture of realist and experimental aesthetics. Here I pay attention to the concepts of excess and abjection as strategies that disrupt artistic representations of women’s bodies. By contrast, Carmen Carrascal was made through a close alliance between the filmmakers and the film subject. The mode of production relied on the slow process of building relationships of trust, which was then reflected on the screen through images that evoke haptic visuality and establish a bodily relationship between the viewer and the image. My research methods combine oral-history interviews and film viewing and analysis. This article has also benefited from the several conversations and discussions I have held with scholars, feminists, and filmmakers. These methods allow me to implement collaborative ways of creating knowledge that are respectful of both the politics of the Cine Mujer collectives and the communitarian approach which is quintessential to feminism.3

The Latin American Women’s Movement and the Cine Mujer Collectives

The 1970s was a flourishing decade for women’s movements in Latin America. The acquisition of women’s rights was achieved thanks to women’s greater access to education and the workforce, the migration from rural areas to cities, the political discourse of emancipation, and the circulation of feminist ideas, which galvanized women to organize themselves and challenge traditional gender roles. This feminist efflorescence was catalyzed by the UN World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975. However, within the context of Mexico and other Latin American countries, feminism was “mostly understood as an imported imperialist dogma that prioritized issues of sexual liberation over more pressing class-based and social justice agendas” (Jocelyn Olcott as cited in Gabriela Aceves 2013, 5) and, as this conference exposed, “women from the popular classes were badly underrepresented” (Jocelyn Olcott 2017, 6). In 1981, the First Latin America and Caribbean Feminist Encuentro, celebrated in Bogotá, stressed the need to incorporate “the region’s most vulnerable women into the project of feminism” (María del Carmen Feijóo as cited in Virginia Vargas 1992, 201). This event also built a transnational network through which feminist ideas travel and cultural artefacts, such as those films made by the Cine Mujer collectives, are exhibited and discussed.4 For Clara Riascos, a member of the Colombian Cine Mujer, “these Encuentros were of great theoretical importance for women, who later applied those ideas in their own countries.”5 As the women’s movements shifted towards intersectionality, particularly in relation to class, race, and ethnicity, the protagonists and stories of the Cine Mujer films also changed, giving epistemic advantage to subaltern women.

Although the Cine Mujer collectives were created in different contexts and did not know about the existence of each other until they met during the First Encuentro in 1981, there are a number of common factors they shared; the most obvious being their name. Whereas the Mexican collective chose Cine Mujer to pay homage to Dziga Vertov’s Kino Pravda, translated into Spanish as Cine Verdad; the reasoning behind the naming of the Colombian collective obeyed a more down-to-earth logic as it brought together the two keywords that defined its activity. Moreover, both collectives were formed by white, educated, middle-class, urban women, and emerged from and contributed to the contemporary feminist and women’s movements through the making of films that aimed to raise awareness about women’s issues and to intervene in social, cultural, legal, and political contexts. They also implemented similar collective and collaborative modes of authorship and production that disrupted the role of the auteur and the centrality of the filmmaker. Their films were primarily distributed through alternative circuits, such as unions, women’s associations, schools, universities, prisons, and film clubs, and also through transnational networks, such as the Latin America and Caribbean Feminist Encuentros. Unlike other Latin American political films, the Cine Mujer films were rarely showcased at film festivals, whether Latin American or international.

Cine Mujer in Mexico (1975–1986) was founded by Mexican Rosa Martha Fernández, Brazilian Beatriz Mira, and Frenchwoman Odile Herrenschmidt in 1975 while they were students at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC), a film school at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The history of this collective is divided into two periods in which they produced eight films. During the first period (1975–1980), the founding members produced films that address issues about abortion, rape, and domestic work: Cosas de mujeres, the Ariel-winner Vicios en la cocina, las papas silban (Beatriz Mira, 1985), and the docudrama Rompiendo el silencio (Rosa Martha Fernández, 1979). In the second period (1981–1986), Beatriz Mira and Ángeles Necoechea, amongst others, took over the collective and five new films were made, focusing on women’s gatherings, prostitution, and labor exploitation.6 These films are Es primera vez (Beatriz Mira, 1981), Vida de Ángel (Ángeles Necoechea, 1982), Yalaltecas (Sonia Fritz, 1984), Amas de casa (Ángeles Necoechea, 1984), and Bordando en la frontera (Ángeles Necoechea, 1986).

Cine Mujer in Colombia (1978–1999) was founded by Eulalia Carrizosa and Sara Bright, and later joined by Rita Escobar, Patricia Restrepo, Dora Cecilia Ramírez, Clara Riascos, and Fanny Tobón. From 1978 to 1999, this collective produced short films, documentaries, series, and videos, and became a distributor of Latin American women’s cinema. As I have argued elsewhere, “its twenty years of activity make it one the world’s most enduring feminist film collectives” (Lorena Cervera Ferrer 2020, 150). Most of their first films are fictional representations that mirror the daily struggles of women from a similar background to the filmmakers and include films such as A primera vista (1978), Paraíso artificial (Patricia Restrepo, 1980), and ¿Y tu mamá qué hace? (Eulalia Carrizosa, 1981). From the 1980s onwards there was a greater interest in making documentaries concerned with representing subaltern women, such as in Carmen Carrascal and La mirada de Myriam (Clara Riascos, 1987). From the mid-1980s, Cine Mujer produced several videos and series for governmental and global institutions, such as Realidades y políticas para la mujer campesina (Sara Bright, 1985), A la salud de una mujer (Clara Riascos and Eulalia Carrizosa, 1992), and Ver estrellitas por los ojos (Rita Escobar, 1992).7

Cosas de Mujeres (Mexico, 1978)

Cosas de mujeres was directed by Rosa Martha Fernández and produced by the Mexican Cine Mujer as part of coursework for the CUEC. It is a 42-minute black-and-white hybrid film that denounces the life-threatening conditions to which women, particularly those from lower classes, are subjected to due to the illegality of abortion. As part of the research process, Cine Mujer began collecting testimonies of women from different backgrounds who had had illegal abortions, yet in very different conditions. It is worth mentioning that Rosa Martha Fernández is a psychologist whose research methods primarily rely on interviewing and whose work is deeply informed by her own personal experiences. Thus, besides drawing from contemporary debates within the feminist movement, Cosas de mujeres is also imbued with Fernández’s personal experience, which allowed her to give precise directions to the film protagonist, Patricia Luke.8

Abortion was the burning issue of 1970s feminism and several films were made about it in different countries.9 Thus, Cosas de mujeres “inserts the concrete demands of Mexican feminists in a historical and transnational continuum: in a global struggle in favour of women’s rights” (Elena Oroz 2018, 77). The title of this film has a sarcastic tinge that refers to the resistance and reluctance on the part of male comrades to listen to or struggle for those issues that were considered “women’s issues.” In 1976, the Coalition of Feminist Women organized the first conference for the decriminalization of abortion in the country, “where it was argued that the termination of pregnancy was an exclusive decision of women and free abortion on demand should be provided in all public health institutions” (Francesca Gargallo 2004, 111). Mexican feminists used various strategies to make this issue more socially visible, ranging from dressing up in black clothes in public protests to mourn all those women who had died in clandestine abortions to organizing demonstrations for voluntary motherhood on Mother’s Day. These initiatives led to a national debate from which a bill of law to legalize abortion was submitted to the Chamber of Deputies and eventually refused by president José López Portillo in 1979 after a fierce campaign of opposition by the Catholic Church. Within this context and as part of the initiatives aforementioned, screenings of Cosas de mujeres “functioned as a didactic tool to promote discussions” (Gabriela Aceves 2014, 333).

Cosas de mujeres includes three different parts: a fictionalized short film that follows the story of a university student, her friend, and an invisible network of women who support her search for an illegal abortion; a testimonial interview of a woman who went through a traumatic experience of a clandestine abortion; and documentary footage that offers information about the state of abortion in Mexico from medical and political perspectives. Each of these three narratives employs different realist strategies, namely observational footage, talking-head interviews, press clippings, intertitles, continuity editing, and a voice-of-God type of commentary that reads the articles of the Criminal Code referring to the legal implications of seeking or procuring an abortion. However, also each of these narratives makes use of audio-visual devices that exceed conventional realist aesthetics, including sound effects such as the use of bells as a symbolical reminder of the omnipresence of the Catholic church and its ideological power; chiaroscuro lighting that evokes both theatricality and dramatism; and unconventional camera angles that unsettle the viewer’s position, amongst others. I contend that these devices break the cinematic illusion and produce effects and affects that appeal to the sensorial and emotional experience of the viewer Figure 1.

Figure 1. Frame from Cosas de mujeres that symbolically points at patriarchy and the Catholic Church as the main obstacles for the decriminalization of abortion in Mexico

Cosas de mujeres mixes forms, blurs boundaries, and exceeds classifications. By combining different formal approaches, the film opens up a negotiation between the real event and the different possibilities of representation, drawing attention to its own construction. For Laura Marks, hybridity, whether cultural or cinematic, is necessarily “unpredictable and uncategorizable” (Laura U. Marks 2000, 7). She writes: “by pushing the limits of any genre, hybrid cinema forces each genre to explain itself, to forgo any transparent relationship to the reality it represents, and to make evident the knowledge claims on which it is based” (2000, 8). The mixing of forms was, according to Fernández, a necessary approach despite going against the cinematic language–whether conventional or experimental–of the time. The indexical value of documentary footage gives validity to or “authenticate[s] the fictionalisation” (Stella Bruzzi 2000, 153) as well as providing a class perspective to the cause for abortion rights. Whereas the fictional part positions the female body as a site of alternative epistemologies through evoking feelings and emotions.

The impossibility of categorization has also been central to feminist theory and practice through the concept of excess, which refers to those ideas that unsettle normative categorizations and problematize existing hegemonic structures (Domitilla Olivieri 2012, 9). In Cosas de mujeres, one of the documentary scenes shows a curettage performed on a woman at the General Hospital of Mexico City. While it is important to highlight the political significance of representing a real abortion, what interests me is how this image exceeds artistic depictions of women’s bodies. Throughout the history of art, the female body and its excessiveness–namely blood, mass, and fluids–have been contained and concealed.10 In The Female Nude, for example, Lynda Nead argues that “the forms, conventions and poses of art have worked metaphorically to shore up the female body–to seal orifices and to prevent marginal matter from transgressing the boundary dividing the inside of the body and the outside” (Lynda Nead 1992, 6). In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva extensively explores the subject of abjection to describe “what does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Julia Kristeva 1982, 4). It is what provokes disgust, horror, and causes rejection. One of these borders is found in what separates the limits of the body from the objects that are discharged from its inside. Thus, Kristeva argues, corporeal waste represents a threat to the symbolic order.

In a similar composition to the painting The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet, Cosas de mujeres includes a close-up shot of a woman’s genitals. She is lying on a hospital bed with legs spread while objects–medical devices (speculum and curette) and fluids (pregnancy tissue)–traverse the threshold of the female body. The vagina is framed even closer than in Courbet’s painting, undisturbed by other parts of the female body, and with the edges of the frame dissolved in black, blurring its own boundaries. This image is intercut with shots of doctors, nurses, and the woman’s sleeping face while we hear non-diegetic sound of an interview with a doctor about how safe abortions can reduce maternal mortality. Whereas the image might provoke feelings of repulsion, the sound attempts to produce different effects. It confronts us with our feelings of disgust or, even horror, about seeing a woman having a curettage but not about women dying from a preventable cause. This idea is reinforced by the following image of a press clipping that states “abortion continues to be the main reason for maternal mortality and, even, women’s mortality.” Thus, the abject here serves the purpose of, as Kristeva argues, threatening our understanding of reality and our morality.

Looking at this image from Cosas de mujeres alongside The Origin of the World invites me to think about the distinction that Nead makes between obscenity and art, the female body and its artistic representation. Despite Courbet’s painting shocking its contemporaneous society, today it is defined in terms of “refinement” which “escapes pornographic status” by the Musée d’Orsay. Cosas de mujeres’ image, however, can be defined “in terms of excess, as form beyond limit, beyond the frame and representation” (Lynda Nead 1992, 20). It aimed to shock its audiences. Even today, more than 40 years after it was made, Cosas de mujeres continues to exceed both the conventions of realist aesthetics associated with documentary and the artistic representation of women’s bodies. It still presents us with a moral dilemma that we must confront.

Cosas de mujeres ends with a series of photographs that show various groups of women demonstrating in favor of the decriminalization of abortion in Italy, USA, Japan, and eventually in Mexico during the 1970s, highlighting the transnational nature of this particular struggle. Although the film’s political goal was not achieved and abortion remained illegal, several other actions continued to happen in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. In the Fifth Encuentro in Argentina in 1990, September 28 was named as the Day for the Struggle for the Decriminalization of Abortion. In 2005, several demonstrations across the region continued with these demands. Since 2021, abortion is no longer a crime. Yet, in most of the country, it is permitted only under specific circumstances, such as rape, risk for the mother, or nonviable fetus. In this current context, Cosas de mujeres remains a strikingly relevant feminist documentary Figure 2.

Figure 2. Frame from Cosas de mujeres showing a demonstration for the decriminalization of abortion

Carmen Carrascal (Colombia, 1982)

Carmen Carrascal was directed by Eulalia Carrizosa and produced by the Colombian Cine Mujer in 1982. It is a 27-minute ethnographic documentary about the life of a rural artisan from the region of Sucre, in the Atlantic side, who weaves baskets made out of iraca leaf through a craft that she invented. According to the synopsis included in the catalogue Con ojos de mujer, “Carmen, the craftswoman, is the expression of human capacity for self-assertion (…) Carmen, the film, is an intimate documentary, close to its character, and respectful of her” (Guiomar Dueñas-Vargas 2000, 4). In this analysis I contend that Carmen Carrascal is an emblematic example of what Israel Rodríguez, although referring to the Mexican collective in more general terms, describes as a “displacement from historical feminism towards popular feminism in film productions” (2019, 202). In particular, I focus on how the mode of production was reflected on the screen through images that evoke haptic visuality and establish a bodily relationship between the viewer and the image. Thus, I contend that this film attributes political value to the sensorial and emotional.

The different cultures and ethnicities that coexist in Latin American countries made feminist filmmakers realize the need for inclusion and diversity in the type of women and stories represented in feminist cinema. From the 1980s onwards subaltern women, in their roles as mothers, wives, artisans, and community leaders, became the protagonists of Latin American feminist cinema.11 Carmen Carrascal is the first film in the filmography of Cine Mujer that exemplifies this shift. The protagonist is an illiterate artisan and mother of nine children. Through the use of Carrascal’s own voice, the film highlights not only her craft, but also the troubled relationship with her husband, the efforts to give an education to her children, the suffering caused by not having them around but also her wish of not having any more children, the precarious conditions of artisan work, and mental health problems.

Furthermore, this film also represents an important shift within Colombian public discourse and even that of the New Latin American Cinema. Following the period of upheaval known as La Violencia (1948–1953), by the 1980s, the Colombian conflict–this is to say, the unofficial war between guerrillas, drug trafficking organizations, the Colombian government, and far-right paramilitary groups–affected rural areas through the killing of community leaders and local populations, sexual violence, and forced migration. In “An/Other View of the New Latin American Cinema,” B. Ruby Rich notes “a shift from ‘exteriority’ to ‘interiority’” in Latin American cinema through films that turn away from the epic and spectacular towards everyday life, fantasy, and desire. She adds that these films “share a refusal to attribute ‘otherness’ to subjects formerly marked as such, accompanied by a commitment to the narrative inscription of an ‘other’ selfhood, identity, and subjectivity” (B. Ruby Rich 1997, 280). This shift, she claims, has “opened the field to women” (1997, 281). As an anthropological portrait of a subaltern woman made through collaborative modes of authorship and production, Carmen Carrascal casts light on the hardship that rural women in particular endure in Colombia, a theme that has hitherto been overshadowed by the grand stories of the Colombian conflict. It does so not in order to victimize or other its protagonist, but to challenge wider ideas about national identity and womanhood.

Initially, Cine Mujer wanted to direct this film collectively, implementing a collaborative mode of authorship. Each member of the collective was supposed to act as director for a day and the film would “reflect the agreements and disagreements in the search for a feminist cinema.” However, as Carrizosa says, “this approach proved to be unviable”.12 Eventually, she became the sole director, but the script and the most important decisions were discussed collectively amongst the Cine Mujer members and in collaboration with the film subject. Even though the Cine Mujer members came from very different backgrounds to Carrascal’s, their mode of production also relied on the slow process of building relationships of trust and allowed the making of an intimate portrait. Clara Riascos described this close relationship with the subjects as “a sisterhood. It was not an intellectual or cinematic relation. That was the attitude of male filmmakers (…) We really got to know them and joined forces with them. We respected their lives, portraying them with great dignity.” Figure 3

Figure 3. From left to right, Eulalia Carrizosa, Carmen Carrascal and Sara Bright during the shooting of Carmen Carrascal

Carmen Carrascal began making handcraft baskets because she did not have enough money to buy school backpacks for her children. When she went to Bogotá to collect an award by Artesanías de Colombia, Eulalia Carrizosa learnt more and was moved by her story. The pre-production process involved a couple of trips to the remote area where Carrascal lived. During these trips they were able to build a close relationship and discuss the making of the documentary in greater detail. Later, the collective secured funding from the Inter-American Foundation through an application that emphasized the need to tell stories of different women. Later on, a small crew formed by Carrizosa as the director, Sara Bright as the sound recordist, Rita Escobar as the script supervisor, and Luis Crump as the cinematographer, filmed Carrascal’s daily life. The intention was to focus on the interweaving of her life-story and the creative process of craft-making.

In formal terms Carmen Carrascal follows a conventional realist approach and, unlike Cosas de mujeres, maintains a coherent style throughout. The film combines a talking-head interview with Carrascal with observational footage of her daily life. The closeness of the interview shot often reveals Carrascal’s moments of doubt, her timid laugh, and the silent thoughts, emphasizing that this film is not only about seeing or listening but also about feeling. The observational footage shows the rural environment in which Carrascal’s life takes place with detailed attention to the process of making the baskets, from collecting and cutting the iraca leaf, the braiding and weaving, to its transport to the nearest town. The sound track consists of a combination of music, diegetic sound, Carrascal’s voice, and a touching song sung by the protagonist about a mental health episode. Carrascal had initially requested that this song should be excluded, but the fact that it made it to the final cut points to some of the flaws involved in the collaborative processes, proving that the filmmakers did not completely relinquish their agency.

In Touch, Laura Marks describes haptic visuality as a multisensorial experience that “occurs in dialectical relationship with the optical” (Laura U. Marks 2002, 12). Haptic images do not rely on the viewer’s identification with the image through distance, distinction, and disembodiment but through a bodily experience that “invite[s] the viewer to dissolve his or her subjectivity in the close and bodily contact with the image” (2002, 13). In documentary cinema, as Marks notes, “haptic visceral intimacy engenders an ethical relationship between viewer and viewed, by inviting the viewer to mimetically embody the experience of the people viewed” (2002, 8). Marks argues that the haptic is not a feminine form of perception, but “a feminist visual strategy, an underground visual tradition in general rather than a feminine quality in particular” (2002, 7). She summarizes as follows: “what is erotic about haptic visuality, then, may be described as respect for otherness, and concomitant loss of self in the presence of the other” (2002, 20).

We can point to the presence of the haptic in Carrizosa’s film. The cinematic language of Carmen Carrascal privileges details that evoke sensorial and bodily experiences by meticulously following her craft-making process. Throughout the documentary there are numerous close-ups of precise hand movements, subtle facial expressions, and skin and material textures that poetically capture the laboring body. The fragmentation of the body and the juxtaposition of close-ups of hands and face through adroit editing, camera movements, and sensitive zooming emphasize the dialectical relation between haptic and optical visuality and between distance and closeness, which enables us, as viewers, to establish a bodily relationship with the image and to embody her experience. Moreover, the graininess and materiality of the 16 mm film also contribute to the stimulation of a tactile consciousness and its ochre tone blends the different colors found in this rural environment. Here, Carrascal, her husband, and children are shown as living harmoniously with cows, cats, pigs, chickens, and a mule. Most of what they need is taken from the natural world around them and there is almost no waste. However, despite this seemingly idyllic description, Carmen Carrascal is not a contemplative film that exoticizes the environment.

In the final sequence the film follows Carrascal’s journey to Colosó, where she sees her children and drops the baskets. Here we see that her handcraft technique has also been learned by members of this community, transiting from the individual to the collective. Despite being a character-led film, this final scene emphasizes that Carrascal represents a broader community and positions their laboring bodies as conveyors of knowledge. Similarly, the representation of her handcraft on screen and the ethical relationship engendered through haptic visuality have the potential of producing embodied experiences, respect for otherness, and politicized bodies in the audience. Instead of engaging with the rational, this film privileges emotional and sensorial attachments and invites the audience to challenge hegemonic ideas about both national identity and womanhood.


The Cine Mujer collectives were part of the 1970s international effort to bring women’s issues to the forefront of political debate. As part of this large phenomenon, they were informed by different transnational flows of ideas and praxis–including the New Latin American Cinema and anglophone and European feminism and feminist cinema. However, these ideas and praxis were received, interpreted, and developed in conversation with national spaces and cultures, contributing to the making of a distinctive cinema that linked national identities and struggles with transnational cinematic modes. As I have argued, the filmography of these collectives constitutes a valuable contribution to both the struggles for women’s rights and the making of a Latin American feminist cinema.

Both films analyzed in this article were conceived as political tools to intervene in particular contexts. Cosas de mujeres was part of the collective effort for decriminalizing abortion and Carmen Carrascal aimed to challenge hegemonic ideas about both national identity and womanhood. By foregrounding women’s issues that had been previously ignored and implementing collaborative modes of authorship and production, these collectives also forged new ways of making political cinema. However, their films’ effectiveness as a political tool was limited partly due to the marginalization of feminist documentary within the Latin American film circuits and also within transnational women’s cinema. In both cases, the main distribution channels were alternative circuits, with some exceptions. For instance, Cosas de mujeres was showcased at the First International Women’s Film Conference in Amsterdam in 1981, organized by the Dutch feminist film distributor Cinemien, and at the Third UN Conference on Women, held in Nairobi in 1985. Carmen Carrascal was awarded at the Cartagena film festival and showcased at the Moscow International Film Festival.

The difficulties involved in accessing Latin American feminist documentaries of the 1970s and 1980s still exist and continue to be a barrier for their inclusion in the history of political cinema in Latin America. This situation is, however, slowly changing. In both Mexico and Colombia, universities have played a fundamental role in the digitization and preservation of the Cine Mujer’s filmographies. However, the conditions of these archives are precarious. Internationally, some of their films are also distributed through organizations that promote women’s cinema, such as Women Make Movies and Cinenova. Despite the limitations, these initiatives have enormously contributed to the dissemination of Latin American feminist cinema and have allowed several scholars to re-write the history of political cinema. This article joins this collective endeavor by highlighting the complexities and formal sophistication of two feminist documentaries made during a formative moment in Latin American feminist cinema. In doing so, it also attempts to expand what is understood by political cinema, moving away from the focus on the rational and historical of the New Latin American Cinema towards a cinema that intersects politics, aesthetics, emotion, and affect.


I want to thank Eulalia Carrizosa, Patricia Restrepo, Clara Riascos and Rosa Martha Fernández for their work in the Cine Mujer collectives and for sharing their experiences with me. I also want to thank my supervisors Prof. Deborah Martin and Prof. Stephen Hart and my friend and colleague Dr. Isabel Seguí for their feedback and support in the process of writing this article.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Additional information


This work was supported by the AHRC London Arts and Humanities Partnership Studentship.

Notes on contributors

Lorena Cervera Ferrer

Lorena Cervera Ferrer is a Senior Lecturer in Film Production at Arts University Bournemouth. She is doing a practice-based PhD in Film Studies at University College London, funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership. Her research looks at Latin American women’s documentary from 1975 to 1994. She has presented her work at conferences and has published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Alphaville, Orbis Tertius and JICMS. In 2021, she co-organized the international conference Cozinhando imagens, tejiendo feminismos. Latin American Feminist Film and Visual Art Collectives. Lorena is also a documentary filmmaker and has directed Pilas (2019) and co-directed #PrecarityStory (2020). E-mail:


1. Cocina de imágenes took place in Mexico City in 1987 and was the first Latin American women’s film festival organized in the region.Julia Lesage is one of the first scholars who gave value to Latin American feminist cinema during these formative years. Her work has been crucial for researchers who, like myself, are interested in unearthing feminist films of the 1970s and 1980s.

2. Women’s cinema—broadly understood as those films made by women—timidly began in the early 20th in Mexico, through the work of Adela Sequeyro, Adriana and Dolores Ehlers, and Matilde Landeta, amongst others; and from the late 1950s in Colombia, through Gabriela Samper, Marta Rodríguez, Camila Loboguerrero, and Gloria Triana. In both cases, it was during the 1970s when a conscious feminist approach to film was developed through the work of the Cine Mujer collectives. Other feminist film collectives of the region include the Venezuelan Grupo Feminista Miércoles, the Brazilian Lilith Video, and the Peruvian WARMI Cine y Video.

3. The re-writing of this article happened alongside and benefited from the organization of the International Online Conference “Cozinhando Imagens, Tejiendo Feminismos. Latin American Feminist Film and Visual Art Collectives” that took place in April 2021.

4. The Colombian Cine Mujer documented the two Encuentros in Llegaron las feministas (1981) and En que estamos (1983).

5. Interview with Clara Riascos on August 24, 2018, in Bogotá. All interviews and text translations are mine unless stated otherwise.

6. Other members included Ellen Camus, María del Carmen Lara, Carolina Fernández, Sonia Fritz, Lilian Liberman, Laura Rosseti, Guadalupe Sánchez, Eugenia María Tamés, Pilar Calvo, Sibillie Hayem, Amalia Attolini, and María Novaro.

7. The Colombian Cine Mujer became a distributor of Latin American women’s cinema and published three catalogues with all the films of its collection—Catálogo Distribuidora Cine-Mujer (1989), Con ojos de mujer (2000), and Con ojos de mujer 2 (2006). According to the most recent catalogue, the last production by Cine Mujer was Ciudadanía plena (1998). Nonetheless, its end is marked by a letter signed by Patricia Alvear donating the Cine Mujer’s archive to the Colombian Film Heritage Foundation on November 17, 1999. Currently, the Cine Mujer’s archive is managed by the Fondo de Documentación Mujer y Género Ofelia Uribe de Acosta, located at the Colombian National University.

8. Interview with Rosa Martha Fernández on April 4, 2021, in Zoom.

9. Some of the feminist films made on abortion are It Happens to Us (Amalie R. Rothschild, USA, 1972), the slideshow La realidad del aborto (Eulalia Carrizosa & Sara Bright, Colombia, 1975), and Whose Choice? (London Women’s Film Group, UK, 1976), to name a few.

10. An important exception is the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in paintings such as My Birth (1932), which represents a semi-naked woman on a blood-stained bed giving birth to the artist herself; and Henry Ford Hospital (1932), a similar painting of Kahlo crying on a blood-stained hospital bed in Detroit after having a miscarriage.

11. A predecessor of this shift is The Double Day, a documentary by Brazilian Helena Solberg and produced by the International Women’s Film Project in 1975 that addresses issues of class, ethnicity, and gender and exposes how women’s incorporation to the workforce forces them to carry out a double work shift.

12. Interview with Eulalia Carrizosa on August 20, 2018, in Bogotá.


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