EXCLUSIVE: A trailer dropped Friday for What We Leave Behind, the same day the acclaimed documentary debuts in select cinemas in the U.S. and a week ahead of its release on Netflix.
Iliana Sosa’s highly personal film, from Array Releasing, won two awards at SXSW where the documentary premiered in March. With observational skill and poetic force, it explores the life experience of Sosa’s grandfather, Julián Moreno, who at the age of 89 began to build a home on land he owned in Mexico’s northern state of Durango. The construction project was a final act of service to his family settled on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“He always fascinated me,” Sosa says of her grandfather. “He’d come visit us each month in El Paso after taking a 17-hour bus ride from Durango, Mexico. His stories of traveling as a bracero [guest worker in the U.S.] left me in awe of his resilience and fortitude. He was a man I knew so little about even though I saw him every month. His weathered hands could tell a million stories, and I wanted to figure out how to listen to them.”
Sosa tells Deadline, “I admired his presence, his matter-of-fact way of being in the world. Every morning, he would say, ‘Voy a ver como amaneció el mundo.’ ‘Let’s see how the world woke up today.’ I try to lead my life with that spirit guiding me.”
What We Leave Behind opens today at the AMC Del Amo in Torrance, Calif., and the AMC East Pointe in El Paso. On September 30 the documentary premieres on Netflix in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.
“Sosa avoids judgment, her love for her grandpa evident in every frame,” Film Threat critic Alex Saveliev wrote, “in the stories she tells of crossing the border, and especially in the nostalgic recollections of Julián… Julián trying to make the most out of the time he’s got left is heartbreaking.”
The film is produced by Emma D. Miller and Sosa. It is written by Sosa and Isidore Bethel, who also edited the documentary and serves as co-producer. In addition to SXSW in Sosa’s native Texas, What We Leave Behind screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C., the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico, and the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.
“The emotional response [of viewers] overwhelms me each time,” Sosa comments. “It has been amazing to see people from all walks of life connect with the film. I love hearing how Julián reminds audiences of their own family members, in ways that transcend cultural borders. People who have connections to Durango have felt like watching the film transports them there. It has been particularly special sharing the film across the country, with communities I hadn’t ever visited before. Someone who saw the film recently told me that watching it was healing for her. Hearing that was everything to me.”
Watch the trailer for What We Leave Behind above.