SXSW documentary examines ‘What We Leave Behind’ in migration

A filmmaker records her 89-year-old grandfather’s efforts to build a house in his rural hometown as a place for his family to gather.

By Laura RiceMarch 11, 2022 9:45 am, , , , ,

Iliana Sosa describes herself as a border child. She grew up in El Paso and Spanish was her first language.

“I think it’s something that has always marked my life, this bicultural identity. And something where I don’t quite fit in one world. I sort of I mean, I’m able to navigate in between different worlds,” Sosa said.

Sosa is now based in Austin – where she makes fiction and documentary films and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. Her latest film, “What We Leave Behind,” introduces us to her grandfather and follows him through his mission to build a house in his rural hometown of Durango, Mexico.

Iliana Sosa smiles at the camera

Credit: Hakeem Adewumi

“When he started this project, the family wasn’t sure why… He was never explicit as to, ‘I’m building this house because of x y z reason,’” Sosa said. “I think ultimately he wanted to have a place for people to have a home to come home to if that’s what they wanted and especially the family here in the U.S., if they decided to go back to Mexico, there would be a place for them to go to.”

Sosa says migration has long marked her family’s history. In his younger years, her grandfather worked as a bracero. After some of his children moved to the United States, he would take a 17-hour bus trip each month to visit.

“That fragmentation has always been a part of our lives,” Sosa said.

Because of those monthly trips, Sosa says her grandfather was always a part of her life – but she connected with him in a deeper way through making the film.

“I have this image of him showing up with his sombrero and he’d bring like Mexican candy… [But] I didn’t always understand his dialect. It’s a very specific dialect from the region where he’s from. So it took me some time to understand him, and the process of making this film allowed me to get close to him and understand him,” Sosa said.

The film is making its world premiere as part of SXSW Film 2022 – which runs March 11-20.

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