Atmospheric and tense, Huella is a cathartic exploration of the matriarchal line of a family tree. Directed and written by Gabriela Ortega, the short follows a generational curse that bubbles to the surface after the death of Dani Garcia’s (Shakira Barrera) Abuela Leonora (Denise Blasor) in the Dominican Republic. In Huella, the wounds of the past are festering, hungry, ready to consume the future. Through dance, Dani is able to confront her own grief and use it as a spiritual reckoning to make way for a new beginning.
The short was inspired by Ortega’s own personal experience. Huella’s origin came from her mother and her grandmother, who was a single parent and raised four daughters. “My work tends to come from a seed of real life,” said Ortega. In her head, she had an image of a chain of women being connected and linked together. “That, to me, feels like how I feel being an immigrant in this country and how I feel like my ancestors and my family and the women in my family are very much with me at all times.” As a writer, she wanted to explore grief, loneliness and the idea of work as labor versus work as passion.
In Huella, Dani is a trained flamenco dancer and the speciality was something that Barrera was very interested in. “Normally people do jazz, tap, hip hop when you’re younger, but to have flamenco was a very bold choice,” said Barrera, “And I was really ready for the challenge.” Unknown to Ortega at the time, Barerra already had a long history with flamenco. “It is a very hard dance. But I’ve been doing it since I was three. I came in and we were just ready to go.”
For Ortega it was not only important that Dani’s actress was a good dancer, but was someone who could deliver the lines with the same emotional depth in Spanish and English. “We talk about it a lot in our communities. Latinidad doesn’t equal speaking Spanish. And that’s a beautiful thing,” she explained. “But for this particular project, it was very important to me, for her to have. It’s not just about the ability to speak in the language, but to act in the language too, because I think people don’t know that language is so much how we connect with our emotional core. So she was able to deliver emotionally in both languages. And I think that’s incredible.”
It was vital to show the audience that the Latine community is not a monolith and letting that authenticity shine for Barrera. “ First and foremost, she’s [Dani] Dominican, how does she sound? How does this sound in my body and having the emotional experience? That, to me, first, was the core and the approach.” Part of that process was understanding the history of the past in the Dominican Republic for women and how the church, for example, was a way to get out of an undesired marriage.
Ortega’s background in voiceover and poetry gave her a hyperaware ear into how sound would play a role in affecting the audience and creating tension. “My goal was how do I make people lean in? How do I make people feel it in their body? How do I get people out of their heads? To me, sound plays a key role in that and music as well, because the perfect marriage takes you to the place and describes the emotion in a way that you don’t need words.” The team really wanted to bring the Dominican Republic to the short and the sounds and images that a person would remember with a memory trigger.
“Gosh, it’s hard because it’s a short, so each piece and each section was very special. I think, overall, to talk about how special the project was for me, was to do something where it’s highlighting us in a different way. It’s just a great story, you know, the entire experience of what this led up to for me was being a professional dancer, and now finding myself in Sundance. The magic of following your dreams and the magic of collaborating with other Latino artists and that it could be something that goes to Sundance. We’re proving this system of just telling good stories and following your gut, and collaborating with people who just share the same vision. So for me, that’s been the most magical part of the process. Look at what we can do together. Look at what stories we can tell and look at the abundance of stories that our community has that haven’t been told yet. How exciting is that?”
“I agree, I think the whole experience felt like a dream. It was beautiful. But there’s something about the dance both the rooftop moment, and then all the women out there that I was undone. I was like, yes, like, yes, yelling. I was just inside screaming. Because you know, it’s something that you don’t know how it’s gonna look until it’s there. We rehearsed on Zoom, and then seeing them do it. With the DP, I was like we can plan these big shots, we’re doing it, but then there was a moment where it was just her and them. And I was like, you better dance! I want you to feel like you’re inside of it and you’re dancing with them. And she went! So to me seeing that? It was just so beautiful.”
Huella is playing as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Shorts Program .