UC Santa Cruz alumna receives prestigious Sundance Fellowship

Brenda Avila-Hanna’s newest film bridges the gap between mother and daughter

Brena Avila-Hanna posing in flower bush
Brenda Avila-Hanna; image courtesy of the artist

After graduating with an M.F.A  from the Film and Digital Media department’s Social Documentary program, Brenda Avila-Hanna (Kresge ‘13) has been included in film festivals around the country. Now she and her most recent project have been accepted to the Sundance Institutes Producer Program.

The fellowship, which first began in 2008, brings together producers on independent films and gives them the support and networking opportunities they need. “Producers often have the role of taking care of everybody, making sure things happen, being very resourceful, and always keeping everybody grounded,” says Avila. “There's really not a lot of support for producers to be given that space to be acknowledged and celebrated and grow and be seen as artists.”

To be accepted into the program producer’s must be invited to apply. This is Avila’s second time receiving an invitation, although her first time being accepted. The film she made last year Emergent City was her first feature film and premiered earlier this month at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Her new film How to Clean a House in 10 Easy Steps bridges the gap between fiction and documentary. Avila describes it as a “cinematic book and an exercise in how fiction can reveal truth about who we are, but can also serve as a space to create the world that we want to build together.”

The film follows the true story of Carolina González Valencia, an associate professor at Bates College, as she explores her relationship with her mother, Beatriz. After Beatriz moved to Florida to work as a domestic laborer and support her family, Carolina and her siblings were left behind in Colombia. Now, many decades later, Carolina is in the states as her mother once again moves back to Colombia. The film focuses on the trauma of separation in a mother-daughter relationship. “It is all the different parts that sometimes get lost in immigrant narratives,” says Avila, “especially because it's a mother-daughter relationship trying to mend.”

As for the fictional elements, the story focuses on Beatriz’s tall tales she would tell her children when she was away. The movie parallels Beatriz’s imaginary world with the reality of working as a domestic laborer and having to leave her kids behind in another country. “You will see women dressed in sequins and dancing to ‘70s music. You will see people floating across the screen,” Avila explains. “We use fiction as a vehicle for healing and for truths.”

How to Clean a House in 10 Easy Steps is currently about halfway through production and probably won’t be ready for another year. With the help of Avila’s hard work and the support of Sundance, the film and its crew have access to numerous opportunities during production, and hopefully once it premieres. This marks another one of Avila’s successes in filmmaking and is a great example of remarkable accomplishments from UC Santa Cruz alumni.