The first time’s a charm for Mexico’s Tatiana Huezo Sánchez, who has picked up one of the top prizes at the 23rd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The 40-year-old part-Salvadorean/part-Mexican director/cinematographer, who moved to Mexico City at the age of 4, received the John Schlesinger Award this past weekend, which is presented to a first-time documentary filmmaker, for her work behind the lens on The Tiniest Place (El Lugar Más Pequeño).
The documentary tells the heartbreaking yet hopeful story of Cinquera, a small town in rural El Salvador that was completely depopulated during the Civil War, as told by the survivors who have returned with astonishing resilience to rebuild their lives on their native soil.
It’s a very personal project for Huezo Sánchez, who was inspired to make the documentary after her first moments in her grandmother’s town.
“A few years ago I visited my paternal grandmother in San Salvador and she took me to the town were she was born, Cinquera. It took us three hours to get there on dirt roads. That same evening we arrrived I went out for a walk, alone. Suddenly an eldery woman hugged me, “Rina!” she shouted ‘you came back! You haven’t changed a bit!’ I didn’t know how to react, I told her it was a mistake, that I wasn’t Rina. The woman didn’t believe me. I’m not Rina, but I could have been.,” recalls Huezo Sánchez, about how her opera prima came to be. “Later, I stepped into the small town church, the walls were filled with bullet holes, there were only a few wooden benches, a military helicopter tail hung on a wall. There were very few religious images on the walls but there were rows of portraits of young people that died in the war. The images and sensations of this space touched me deeply. I felt a need to know everything that happened here.”
Huezo Sánchez has received the John Kennedy Statue, which is called “The Entertainer,” for her win at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, one of North America’s biggest film festivals attracting about 130,000 attendees each year with its features and documentaries from around the world.