by Kjerstin Johnson.
Lourdes Portillo has a decades-long film career. Her films, which tend to focus on Chicano and Latino culture and identity, range from realism to avant-garde, fiction to personal narrative, with every kind of genre-bending in between.
Born in Mexico, Portillo got hooked on filmmaking while helping a friend make a documentary in Los Angeles. She moved to San Franciso in the 1960s, and got an MFA in film from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her own filmmaking began in the early 1970s as member of Marxist collective Cine Manifest. She was one of only two women included in the 1985 volume Chicano Cinema, the first anthology on the topic.
Her first film was Despues del Terremoto, or After the Earthquake, which she made in 1979 with Nina Serrano. The short film follows Irene, a Nicaraguan domestic worker in San Francisco. She used a blend of neorealism and telenovela aesthetics to tell the story of an immigrant adjusting to new life.
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