A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Vanishing Fronteras: A Call for Documentary Filmmaking in Cultural Rhetorics (con la ayuda de Anzaldúa)

Alexandra Hidalgo, Michigan State University

(Published April 20, 2016)


In January 2009 I flew to my hometown Caracas, Venezuela with a brand-new video camera and a list of questions about my country's infatuation with breast implants. The resulting 25-minute documentary, PERFECT: A Conversation with the Venezuelan Middle Class About Female Beauty and Breast Implants, was the first step in my rich and invigorating journey as a documentary filmmaker. The longer I stand behind the camera, the clearer it is to me that documentary filmmaking can offer unique and invaluable perspectives to Cultural Rhetorics. In Vanishing Fronteras, I weave together the work of Gloria Anzaldúa with documentary filmmaking in order to show viewers what can be gained and what is lost when we use the camera to tell stories that help us better understand Otherness.

Documentary filmmaking is a growing practice within Rhetoric and Composition. Todd Taylor's Take 20 and Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow's Con Job are feature documentaries about our field. There are two digital books that rely on documentary filmmaking in order to explore multicultural literacy: Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe's Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times and John Scenters-Zapico's Generaciones Narratives. Other scholars, such as Jennifer Sano-Franchini, Donnie Sackey, Stacey Pigg, Shewonda Leger, Casey Miles, and myself, have published and presented documentaries that explore intersections between rhetoric, gender, race, culture, and sexuality. In this piece, I aim to continue the conversation the work of these scholars has started by comparing documentary filmmaking to Anzaldúa's groundbreaking ideas and prose.

Even though I analyze the benefits and drawbacks of documentary filmmaking, I don't address how those who have yet to pick up their cameras can learn to make moving images. It would take a book to explain how scholars in our field can learn to make documentaries—as a matter of fact, I'm working on a video book project that does exactly that. However, most scholars in our field who are making documentaries today followed some version of this advice provided by producer, screenwriter, and actor Sara Fletcher:

DO IT!! Right now—go, find a camera, an iPhone, your Mom's old camcorder from the 90s, and make something.  Find your friends who also want to make stuff, pool your resources, do a kickstarter, save some lunch money, etc. I think people get scared about failure . . . what if I make something and it sucks? So what? Fail and then the next time you make something, do it better. (Hidalgo "Interview")

As scholars, we are used to undertaking seemingly insurmountable tasks because of the value they can bring to our field, to our students, and to society. Filmmaking is a complex, often frustrating task, but its benefits for Cultural Rhetorics, as I show in the following video essay, are well worth the effort:

Read a transcript of the video [.PDF file, 137Kb]

Works Cited

Hidalgo, Alexandra. "Interview with Sara Fletcher and Leah McKendrick, writers and producers of The Girl in the Green Dress." agnèsfilm.com. agnès films, 23 July 2015. Web. 24 July 2015.

Works Consulted

Berry, Patrick W., Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe.  Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times. Logan: Computers and Composition Digital P/Utah State UP, 2012.   Web. 17 Feb 2015.

Fulwiler, Megan, and Jennifer Marlow. Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor. Logan: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State UP, 2014. Web. 17 Feb 2015.

Hidalgo, Alexandra. "National Identity, Normalization and Equilibrium: The Rhetoric of Breast Implants in Venezuela." Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture 13 (2012): n. pag. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.

Leger, Shewonda. "Exploring Identities: Embodied and Disembodied." Conference on College Composition and Communication. Marriott Hotel, Tampa. 20 March 2015. Conference Presentation.

Miles, Casey. "Dissing the Academy: Doing Queer Feminist Video Work." Feminisms & Rhetorics Conference.  Stanford University. 26 September 2013. Conference presentation.

"PERFECT: A Conversation with the Venezuelan Middle Class about Female Beauty and Breast Implants." Dir. Alexandra Hidalgo. 2009. DVD.

Sano-Franchini, Jennifer, Donnie Sackey, and Stacey Pigg. "Methodological Dwellings: A Search for Feminisms in Rhetoric and Composition." Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 1.2 (2011): n. pag. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

Scenters-Zapico, John. Generaciones' Narratives: The Pursuit & Practice of Traditional & Electronic Literacies on the U.S./Mexico Borderlands. Logan: Computers and Composition Digital P/Utah State UP, 2010.  Web. 17 May 2015.