Filmmaker and director Natalia Almada was born in Mexico to a Mexican father and an American-born mother. A dual citizen of both Mexico and the United States, from a young age Almada traveled between the two countries. She describes her experience of growing up as a dual citizen as “bi-cultural,” acknowledging the unique identity and relationships her status has afforded her in both Mexico and the United States.
New American Perspectives
The Vilcek Foundation is delighted to host Almada as a featured filmmaker as part of the New American Perspectives program at the 2021 Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF). Almada’s documentary, Users (2021), will be shown at the festival on Sunday, November 14, and available to stream in Hawai’i November 15–28.
Users debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, where Almada won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary. In this visually arresting and meditative film, urgent global issues like climate change and privacy are explored from the intimate perspective of a mother thinking, worrying about, and loving her children.
Filmmaking Through a Bi-Cultural Lens
Almada directed her first short, the experimental documentary All Water Has a Perfect Memory, while completing her MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. All Water Has a Perfect Memory premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and won for Best Short Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival that year.
After earning her MFA, Almada made the decision to continue her path in filmmaking outside of the United States. “It felt like there was more need for someone like me in Mexico than in the United States,” she said.
“Films that you’d see in the United States at the time were very much from the United States perspective in terms of immigration,” Almada recalls. “I felt like there was a hole in terms of talking about why people immigrated: Who are they? Where did they come from, and why were they leaving? That took me back to Mexico.”
A Mexican Perspective
Almada is the founder of Altamura films, and has production companies in both Mexico and the United States. Her first feature, Al Otro Lado (2005) explores the difficult choices faced by Mexicans living near the Mexico-United States border, and how corrido music reflects their stories. Almada’s subsequent film, El General (2009) is a multifaceted portrait of Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles—Almada’s great-grandfather—as seen through Almada’s grandmother’s recollections, and through his legacy in Mexico today. Her third feature, El Velador (2011) is a haunting portrayal of the impact of narco violence in Mexico. A reflection on violence, El Velador bears witness to the maintenance of the Jardines Del Humaya cemetery— a sprawling necropolis in Culiacán where many cartel members are buried. In 2016, she released her first narrative feature, Todo Lo Demás.
Awards and Fellowships
Almada’s powerful filmmaking has earned her many prominent awards and fellowships. She was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in 2008, and received a United States Artists Award in 2010. She earned a MacDowell Fledgling Fund Fellowship in 2011, and was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2012. In 2018 Almada was named a Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fellow, and received a Chicken and Egg Award, and in 2021, Almada received an Alpert Award.