Mexico’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, “Prayers for the Stolen,” gives a glimpse into life in a town at war seen through the eyes of three young girls on the path to adolescence. Director Tatiana Huezo was compelled to step away from documentary filmmaking to shoot her first narrative feature about a rural village dominated by the drug trade and human trafficking.
“This story presented me with a lot of challenges and risks,” Huezo admits. “It was my first feature film and first fiction. But what I loved the most was that it demanded of me to look at the world through the eyes of a young girl. I’ve been in this territory of childhood and adolescence for a while now. I’m a mother to a growing girl. Her magic, her first pains are really what have been a growing motor for me to tackle this territory and to think about these things.”
Casting proved to be of the utmost importance for Huezo, who works with an ensemble cast of children and actors who have never worked professionally before. Part of the casting included choosing the right young actors to portray the main characters both in early childhood and adolescence. “The biggest challenge was that I had to find six girls,” she explains. “This story takes place when these girls are eight years old and then when they are 14 years old. It was fundamental for me to get this casting right and I wanted to make sure that these girls shared certain characteristics. One of the things that I did not want to compromise is that I wanted them to belong to this rural setting.”
“I prepared the six girls for three months before we actually started shooting,” Huezo continues. “We prepared them emotionally and physically and introduced certain sensations about these characters.” Young Ana is played by newcomer Ana Cristina Ordóñez González, who undergoes an emotional transformation when she has her long, beautiful hair cut off. “We conducted an exercise with her,” Huezo describes the preparation for the scene. “We only did it a couple of times. We didn’t want to wear her out. We placed her in front of a mirror and we asked her to say goodbye to something very close to her. You have this eight-year old girl doing these exercises, saying goodbye to her dog that had died. At the moment of shooting the scene I was so impressed by her. She just said, ‘Let me know when you want me to cry.'”
“Prayers for the Stolen” received a Special Mention Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In 2011, Huezo’s documentary “El lugar más pequeño” was nominated for Best Feature at the International Documentary Association Awards.
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