The story behind “Hands of a Woman”
By: Isabel Haro, 12th Grade Student, American School Quito, Quito, Ecuador
This past January, my friend Miguel and I, armed with a tripod, a camera, and a microphone, stepped into my aunt’s car and traveled for just almost 3 hours until we arrived at Peguche: a small town in the province of Imbabura, situated at the northern edge of Ecuador. In Peguche, we were awaited by Matico Lema: the founder of the organization “Huarmi Maqui”, an indigenous artisan who belongs to the Kichwa culture”, and who is well-known in her community and in the entire country for her skilled craftsmanship and for the work she’s done for the women of her culture.
We’d never met Matico before; we simply knew that her story was inspiring and moving, that she was a wise and courageous woman, and thus decided to make a short-subject documentary with her as the protagonist. Our interest in documenting part of Matico’s life came about because of the THIMUN Northwestern Film Festival in Qatar, a contest in which teenagers from all corners of the world create short films that present a social problem that is relevant in their community. This festival presents a rare opportunity for young people interested in filmmaking, like Miguel and I, who also want to become involved in their community and raise awareness about the numerous issues that exist in our society.
Matico welcomed us with genuine warmth and generosity: she opened the door to her pink-and-green house, hugged us, introduced us to her dogs, showed us around her workshop, and waited patiently while we- pretending that we knew exactly what we were doing- installed the tripod, adjusted the light, and hid the microphone amongst balls of yarn so that it wouldn’t be visible in the video. I was the person in charge of the interviewing, and as an aspiring journalist, I was equally excited and nervous about conversing with such an interesting woman.
I talked with Matico for approximately 3 hours (which we later had the daunting task of reducing into a 6 minute video), which could have easily turned into 4, 5, or 6 if Matico hadn’t excused herself to receive more admiring visitors coming to visit her workshop. We talked about her whole life: her childhood experiences, the lessons she learned in her voyages around the world, her family, the traditions of her culture, and, above all, what led her to establish the organization for women that she leads. I was touched by the openness with which she told me about her abusive husband, the difficulty women face to escape abuse in a culture in which marriage is seen as essential, the brave decision she took to pursue a divorce anyway, and the consequences, both positive and negative, that her came from her separation.
Three months from this spontaneous visit, after just over 30 hours of editing, of composing and recording a score with home instruments, of unearthing a concrete tale within the 3 hours of recorded dialogue, and of even having dreams of Matico because of the vehemence and anxiety I felt about doing her story justice, we finished the short film. We called it “Hands of a Woman”, the translation from Kichwa of the name of Matico’s organization for artisans, in which women facing the same adversities that Matico overcame came can find independence, support, and security. At one a.m. of the last day in which the festival accepted submissions, completely filled with nerves and exhaustion and mostly relief, we sent the video to Northwestern University in Qatar. A couple of weeks later, we received the news that “Hands of a Woman” had been nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Story, and Best Film.
What followed were months of stress, excitement, and learning. We visited numerous radio and TV stations to promote the film; spoke for hours and hours about our involvement and Matico’s life and the nature of the festival; talked with all kinds of journalists and interviewers who showed interest and curiosity in the story and were impressed by our initiative because of our high school-student status. Sometimes, in a humorous manner, Miguel and I referred to the experience we were living as our “15 minutes of fame”, but the truth was that we were far from being the protagonists of the affair. The person everyone was interested in was Matico. Her story was the one being heard by all who were listening.
I attended the final interview on my own; while I spoke with the last radio host, Miguel was visiting Qatar, meeting the other students who were also participating in the festival, watching camels in the desert, and waiting for the day in which the winners would be announced. The day in which he sent me the message that we’d won the prize for Best Story, I thought once more about the enormous debt we owed Matico, about how the merit was all hers; I thought of how a movie is nothing without a good story and an extraordinary character behind it, and of how much joy I felt that so many people had been exposed to at least a glimpse of her wisdom, and to the awareness of a problem as universal and critical as violence towards women.
Our success in the festival led us to participate in an important event in our city: the TEDxYouth Talks in Quito. So when the moment came to think about our talk, we decided not to speak about ourselves, or about the specific social issue the video presents, or about the obstacles we faced while making the documentary. We spoke about the true lesson that we obtained from the making of the film: the importance of telling stories- the power we have to give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one, to see the value that lies in others’ lives, to use narrative as a means to talk about love, empathy, adversity, and hope; and of the importance that stories bear in teaching us to be better human beings. Speaking in the theater that day is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had.
Days before the event, Miguel and I retook the now familiar journey to Peguche; this time, with no camera, tripod, or microphone, and accompanied by my whole family. Once more, Matico welcomed us with affection, sat us in her living room, and we started to talk. I’ll never forget when she picked up my baby sister and played with her, or the delicious choclo con queso that she shared with us, or of watching her peel fruit and make us juice with my father while they spoke about the country and their children and their lives. I’ll never forget the moment when we showed her the short film, translating the narration in English for her, remembering the first time we ever visited her house. The words of love and gratitude she expressed at the end of the video will remain with me for the rest of my life. It is a true privilege to be able to say that I know her, that she trusted in us to tell the world her story.
My video on youtube, Isabel