A Place of Absence

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A Place of Absence

Documentary in Production

To be released: 2018

From the director’s website:

A group of Central American women embark on an epic bus journey through Mexico, looking for the disappeared loved ones who went missing on their way to the US. ​The film is told from the perspective of the director. Her personal experience as someone searching for her own uncle for 35 years is woven through with the stories of 4 other women on their journey of discovery while searching for, and miraculously locating, some of their missing family.

The ambiguous loss

A Place of Absence is a hybrid documentary that combines elements of cinema verite, personal essay and more lyrical performance sequences in an exploration of “frozen sadness,” a form of unresolved grief that haunts those whose loved ones have “disappeared”.  The film’s narrative follows director Marialuisa’s unfolding personal search to find meaning and connection with a group of Central American women desperately searching for their sons and daughters who vanished en route to the U.S. by drawing parallels with her own family’s emotional turmoil in the aftermath of her uncle’s disappearance during Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’.

Shedding light on a human rights disaster

My name is María Luisa Ernst, I was 6 years old when my uncle disappeared during the Argentine regime in 1976. Growing up, his absence was a constant presence in my family. For 35 years, we have followed the trail of his vanishing, led only by vague clues and whims. It was while documenting this personal journey in my family that I learned about The Caravan of Mothers, which would shift my focus to a much wider story of searching, a more current story that urgently needs telling.

This film follows a group of Central American mothers as they make an annual 2,500-mile bus journey through Mexico to search for their missing family members who, like 70 thousand others, have gone missing while crossing the Mexican border into America. They march in the streets, searching in brothels, drug dens, and mass graves, finally arriving at the Mexican senate to demand support for their search.

I weave my story between the stories of 4 other women: Anita, whose search for her son fifteen years ago led her to form the Caravan, becoming a valued mentor and activist, finally speaking at the Mexican Senate; Angela, who uncovers her daughter being unfairly incarcerated and visits her in jail; Guadalupe, whose son remains missing after being ransomed by a cartel two years earlier; and Reyna, who discovers that her daughter has escaped with her life from years of forced sex work, and is determined to hold her again.

As these separate stories, interwoven by a shared absence, develop and arrive at their conclusions—some hopeful, and others heartbreaking—my own story develops with them. After 35 years for being burdened by his disappearance, my uncle’s remains are uncovered in a mass grave. Finally, my family can bury him and find closure. I realize the importance of rituals of mourning, in whatever form. There is no relief from the ache of uncertainty.

Over its 15-year history, the Caravan has found 210 missing people. The film not only sheds light on a pressing human rights issue, but also shows the incredible solidarity of women in pain, and how, united in a common struggle, they can change legislation, and track down their loved ones against insurmountable odds, or at the very least, be able to properly mourn them. The film is an exploration of this place of absence—how it feels to search for someone with no certainty that they are alive—and how that journey can fundamentally transform a person.

 * Note: This film is in production and currently seeking community support through a crowdfunding campaign. If you are interested in helping get this story told to a wider audience, please consider supporting the project by contacting the director here: http://marialuisaernst.com/