Gustavo Montaña is a director, cinematographer, psychologist, and musician from Cali, Colombia, now living in Columbia, South Carolina. He’s won numerous awards for his music videos and short films, and he’ll be in Portland in November when his most recent project Las Libres: The Story Continues screens at the Clinton Street Theater.
Las Libres is a documentary about the criminalization of women for abortion in the state of Guanajuato Mexico, the reality of women’s rights in the U.S and Argentina, and a reflection on how conservative governments use anti-abortion laws for their own agendas. Gustavo spoke to me about his film and fighting the stigma around sexual and reproductive rights. Read our chat below.
Olivia Mitchell: What was the catalyst for this project?
Gustavo Montaña: The catalyst without a doubt was Veronica Cruz. She came to South Carolina to give a talk about reproductive health, activism and leadership. I was filming a different project and I had to film her talk, and my mind was blown away, not only regarding the atrocities women where being subjected to in Mexico, but also about, first, how Veronica and Las Libres where fighting the system, denouncing these violations against women’s rights and second, their bravery and conviction
Olivia: Did you have any reservations about making the film?
Gustavo: I’m from Cali, Colombia one of the most violent cities in the world and I grew up surrounded by extreme violence and psychopathic intolerance, so I can’t deny that I was a little worried about filming in these ultraconservative regions in Mexico where violence was escalating almost like in Colombia, but I also have to say that yet again, Veronica’s and Las Libres’s example where enough to carry on and even to go further.
Olivia: Once you had decided to make the film, how did you go about conceiving of its scope?
Gustavo: My idea was to have a direct comparison between Mexico and the U.S. I live in South Carolina and I have to watch how every single day this State promotes several forms of modern slavery and of course their main target is women, followed by immigrants and minorities. Therefore I wanted to expose how atrocities such as the ones in Mexico are indeed taking place here in the U.S, and that if we turn a blind eye, soon enough regions like the “bible belt” will not only start sending women to prison for 20 or more years for having an abortion but they will even pass laws about giving them the death penalty. I wanted to use like a double scope type of thing, where people here in the U.S will realize what is going on and how far these crazy conservatives/religious freaks are willing to go, and also for Mexico and countries like ours to see how many of the ideas behind anti-abortion laws that they promulgate are being manufactured, exported, and promoted from the U.S. and that those laws are more about controlling 50% of the population under a dictatorial state.
Olivia: What was it like to work with these incredibly brave women?
Gustavo: It was and still is, the best experience of my life. There isn’t one single day where I don’t learn something new from them, and there isn’t one single day where I don’t feel more and more drawn to keep fighting and to help people to understand what is happening and how they need to be involved to change the system.
Olivia: Did you experience any shifts in your thinking during the process?
Gustavo: I wouldn’t call it a shift, but I have to say that it became clearer that I needed to tell people that we, western civilization, are killing women for being women. It was, sadly, a small bullet point in the movie but nevertheless I needed to put it there because I wanted to help people understand that there is not really a big gap between – proposing and passing anti-abortion laws and controlling women’s bodies – and femicide.
Olivia: In light of the screening in Portland, what are the most important lessons for American viewers? In what ways can American viewers take action on this issue in a positive way?
Gustavo: They need to take action, it is not only about who to vote for or root for, no, it is about first, denouncing, as hard and extreme as we can think of, every violation against women’s rights at every level, and second, women’s rights organizations in the U.S need to organize and take the fight as one single front. Sadly, many organizations are really tied to grant moneys, lobbying etc, and even though they do want to join forces, there’s always a bureaucratic excuse for not to do it, so it would be good to rethink this situation, and start asking questions like: who’s benefiting from this separation? And why are we not doing more?
If you’re passionate about sexual and reproductive rights, Las Libres is a must-see.
Sunday, November 16th at 10:30 am.
Tickets are $25 General/$15 Student and tax deductible!
Tickets sold at the door. Box Office opens at 9:30 am.
Clinton Street Theater: 2522 SE Clinton St., Portland, 97202
Limited Seating. All proceeds go to Las Libres.
Coffee, light refreshments served before film.