In 2014, Iliana Sosa borrowed a camera, hopped on a bus with her mother and grandfather, and documented her grandfather’s monthly 17-hour trip from Durango, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas.
The journey sparked a seven-year film project titled, “What We Leave Behind.” The documentary follows Sosa’s grandfather, Julián Moreno, as he unveils his relationship with the U.S. and his homeland, Mexico.
“We’re just an American family who happen to live on different sides of the border, and are dealing with these circumstances of not being able to be together,” Sosa says. “I hope (the film) broadens people’s eyes to what an American family looks like.”
Sosa’s grandfather worked throughout the U.S. as a farmhand during the Bracero Program. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. allowed millions of Mexican men to cross the border legally for short-term agricultural labor. Later in life, Julián’s main connection to the U.S. was his extended family. He took the monthly journey across the border for 20 years to see them.
“What We Leave Behind” premiered in March of 2022 at the SXSW Film Festival and won both the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award and the Fandor New Voices Award. The film is available in select theaters and on Netflix in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
For Sosa, an assistant professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at The University of Texas at Austin, this documentary is not just a labor of love — it is also a momentous achievement, preceded by a 10-year grind of freelance filmmaking.
“(Filming) was a slow process in the sense that I didn’t have money at the beginning and then I was applying for a lot of grants,” Sosa says. “Slowly but surely, I got funding and support to really make the project happen.”