After filmmaker Pita Juarez met La Morena through mutual friends, she grew curious about her work. The artist has been making murals with social justice themes in recent years, and Juarez was intrigued by the way she paired art with activism.
Now, Juarez is making the final edits for a short documentary film called La Morena, which is part of the lineup for this year’s Indie Film Fest.
The three-minute film focuses on La Morena’s most recent project. Last summer, the artist began work on a large-scale mural near the Arizona Capitol, in a section of the city that was a hub for anti-SB 1070 protests a decade before.
Juarez’s film captures the mural coming to life and explores the artist's concerns about family separations happening along the U.S.-Mexico border.
La Morena is part of a robust lineup of films being shown during the Indie Film Fest, which happens in February at various downtown Phoenix venues.
It was founded in 2018 by Phoenix filmmaker Matty Steinkamp, after he worked with Juarez to promote another local film called You Racist, Sexist, Bigot.
They traveled across the country making the film festival rounds but didn’t find the type of connections or support they were seeking for the film, which shares first-person accounts of discrimination.
So Steinkamp pulled together a team of volunteers and decided to launch Phoenix’s own indie film fest.
The three-day event includes film screenings for dramatic and documentary feature films, as well as experimental films, short films, and music videos. It also includes filmmaker table readings, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions.
Live music and multimedia installations will round out this year's event. Venues include FilmBar, Paz Cantina, and Smooth Brew. There's even a virtual reality film walk through Roosevelt Row.
Of course, other factors influenced Steinkamp's decision to launch the festival, including the prevalence of mainstream festivals that don't meet his expectations about diversity and inclusion. “We aren't seeing equal representation on a cultural or economic level,” he says of the local film scene.
“There aren’t enough films focused on underrepresented communities,” Steinkamp says. “And too many people can’t afford tickets to the well-established festivals.”
He has another focus, as well.
“We want to help build a sense of community,” Steinkamp says.
It’s a reference not only to the local film scene, but the city as a whole. He’s hoping the festival will bring diverse community members together in ways that help them feel more mutual respect and connection.
Juarez hopes the Indie Film Fest will encourage more locals to create their own films. “The film industry can be intimidating, in part because there are so many men doing it,” she says. “We want this festival to encourage more young people and people of color to tell their stories.”
She’s hoping this year’s selections will encourage others to grab a camera and start filming. “Your movie doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “You just have to make it.”
Indie Film Fest is scheduled from Friday, February 7, through Sunday, February 9, at various downtown Phoenix venues. Ticket prices vary. Visit theindiefilmfest.com.