‘Mija’ director Isabel Castro on telling a different kind of immigration story [Exclusive Video Interview]

When setting out to make her documentary, “Mija,” Isabel Castro wanted to explore the stories of the intergenerational effects of parents who have moved to this country. “I really wanted to show the ways that children of immigrants carried that decision in their lives. At the same time I also wanted to try to do it in a way that felt totally different from the other immigration stories I’d done before,” she tell Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Documentary Film panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).

She felt that making it a music documentary that touched on those ideas and themes would be a great way to make the subject matter more accessible. When she came across Cuco’s music was when she first came in contact with Doris Muñoz, who was his manager at the time. “Over the course of a few months, I just got to know her really well and she invited me out to film a concert that she had organized and that concert is the first scene in the film.”

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“Mija,” which will be available to stream on Disney+, follows Muñoz who starts the film working in the music management business. She eventually meets a younger singer, Jacks Haupt, who like Muñoz is a natural-born citizen to parents that are undocumented. As they both navigate the music industry they also bond over the emotions they share from coming from similar backgrounds. Castro’s previous documentary credits include “Crossing Over: Stories of Immigration and Identity,” “Darlin” and “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak.”

After making her first film, “Crossing Over,” Castro was overwhelmed by what it took to make an independent film and sought to channel her skills in another way. “I went into journalism as a way to still use these kinds of skills that I am really passionate about and to do storytelling. I felt that broadcast news was a way to do it that was more financially stable and pragmatic.” Even after working for platforms like Vice and The New York Times, Castro couldn’t shake off her original ambition of making documentaries. “I realized that independent filmmaker was really my passion. I really love the ability to have subjectivity in the storytelling approach and to inject a story with a personal kind of viewpoint.”

The story of the film’s subjects are also very prevalent in Castro’s own life experiences. She was born in Mexico, came to the United States at a very young age and earned her citizenship at 17. “The experience of growing up uncertain about our visas and green cards instilled a real curiosity about how immigration policy works. It felt really arbitrary, insecure and volatile.” What she experienced ended up influencing not only the field of work that she would eventually enter but also the stories she would tell. “That’s always been the driving force behind my work. A lot has just been concern with trying to understand and unpack immigration policy.”

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