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Stories of the Borderlands

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    Iliana Sosa

2007 graduate is making a name for herself as a filmmaker

Just five years after graduating from Southwestern, Iliana Sosa is already making a name for herself in the film world.

Sosa’s new film, “Child of the Desert,” won the Best Short Film and the Texas Award at the Academy qualifying 2012 USA Film Festival. With this success, Sosa is now eligible to compete in the 85th Academy Awards Short Film Awards.

“Child of the Desert” is a contemporary short film that follows a working-class mother who has to travel across the Southwest United States to the final resting place of the her military son who has died in Afghanistan.

The film is a new take on the war in Afghanistan and the effect it has back in the United States. It looks at the struggle from the perspective of a mother who is an immigrant and cannot speak any English. During this mother’s journey, she encounters an undocumented immigrant who joins her during her trip. During their journey, the mother learns to deal with her grief and come to terms with her son’s passing.

“While we look across the U.S.-Mexico border with weary and suspicious eyes, conflicting interests become marred and blurred when we realize that undocumented immigrants are not very different from us. ‘Child of the Desert’ aims to humanize those differences and celebrate them,” Sosa said.

All of Sosa’s work has in one way or another been tied to her experiences growing up in the Borderland. She was born and raised in El Paso and graduated from Southwestern in 2007 with a degree in Latin American Studies and a minor in French.

It was while attending Southwestern that she was inspired by History Professor Daniel Castro to start considering film as the medium through which she can tell not only her story of the Borderlands but also the stories of others that are not often heard.

“Southwestern was the place where I discovered my passion for filmmaking,” she said.

After graduating from Southwestern, Sosa earned an MFA in film production and directing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and TV.

“Making films for me is both a privilege and the reason why I keep doing the work I do − I think that as Latinos we have a long way to go,” she said. Other films she has made can be seen on her website at http://ilianasosa.com.

Among her other work to date is a 15-part online documentary series titled “Immigrants for Sale” that documents abuse in the private immigration detention industry. The stories garnered nearly 1.2 million views and impressions on YouTube and Facebook and more than three dozen stories in the mainstream press.

Sosa currently is working on directing her first feature film, “Detained in the Desert.” The film is based on a play by Josefina Lopez, the co-writer and playwright of “Real Women Have Curves.” Lopez asked Sosa if she could adapt the play for the screen after she saw “Child of the Desert.”

“Detained in the Desert” is a human rights film and fundraiser for Border Angels, a nonprofit organization that works to stop the unnecessary deaths of individuals in the desert by delivering water in key points where migrants cross the desert. They hope to start production in June.

What advice does Sosa have for students aspiring to become directors? “Write,” she said. “That is the key. Work on small independent sets in the Austin area, connect with other filmmakers and don’t be afraid to make a short film or a feature. Technology has come a long way and filmmaking is much more accessible and economical. Whether you shoot a short film on your I-phone or a DSLR, the possibilities to make your own work are endless. And now there is YouTube − an audience in itself waiting to see your work.”