While we’re generally biased toward anything related to Baja, when you throw in surfing, supporting the local culture and empowering women, we just can’t resist. So it’s no surprise that we were immediately drawn to the making of, and fundraising efforts for, Baja surf documentary “La Maestra (The Teacher).”
“La Maestra” profiles a young Mexican teacher, Mayra, in a tiny rural fishing village in Baja, who becomes the first Mexican woman surfer in her area. Told in Spanish (with English subtitles) using mainly Mayra’s voice, the film shows how she has gone on to inspire both her students and other local women to take up the sport and follow their dreams. Through her deep connection to the ocean, Mayra has also become an environmentalist, teaching her students the importance of land and sea stewardship through hands on learning.
The half-hour documentary is a project by surf photographer and teacher, Paul Ferraris, and Emmy award-winning public television filmmaker, Elizabeth Pepin Silva (a Discover Baja member!). Elizabeth and Paul took a few moments to answer some questions about the film, the filmmaking process and why telling Mayra’s story is so important. Don’t forget to help them raise funds so that they can finish their film. Stay tuned for film screenings in the spring!
DBTC: How did you meet Mayra?
Elizabeth: I started going to Baja in 1992, and to Mayra’s hometown in 2000. I recall seeing her over the years, but I didn’t actually meet her until May, 2012. I was shooting surf photos from the cliff and she pulled up to check the surf. A mutual friend introduced us, but Mayra and I only spoke for a few minutes and that was it. I watched her paddle out and was really impressed by how good her surfing had become. As we watched, my friend told me a little of Mayra’s story, and I was inspired by her courage to do something different from her peers. It’s not easy to go against what is expected in your community, especially in a very small town such as hers. Paul has been going to Baja his entire life because his mother is Mexican and part of their family lives in Baja. But he didn’t meet Mayra in person until we filmed in June, although Paul, Mayra, and I emailed back and forth for several months before our trip.
DBTC: What compelled you to want to tell her story?
Elizabeth: “La Maestra” is a continuation of my efforts through my films and photography to change the way all women are portrayed in the media and create an alternative voice in surfing by pointing my video and photo lenses at women surfers of all ethnicities and backgrounds, ages, and sizes and shapes. Many surf movies are filmed in Mexico, but it’s rare they feature a Mexican surfer, and I’ve never seen one highlighting a Mexican woman surfer. I felt it was time that a local Mexican woman at one of Baja’s many surf spots had a chance to tell her own story, but I was limited by my poor Spanish. When Paul called and said he wanted to make a documentary in Baja, I knew I finally had my chance since part of his family is from Baja and he speaks Spanish. I told him about Mayra and he agreed she was the perfect person to portray.
DBTC: How long did you spend filming?
Elizabeth: We were in Mayra’s town for two weeks filming, and then in August we had a friend who lives in Mayra’s town get a few shots that we discovered during the editing process that we needed. We also were really lucky that this same friend connected us with a guy who has been going to Mayra’s town since the 1960s. He is generously allowing us to use some of his home movies that he shot there over the years.
DBTC: Did you discover anything unexpected during the filming process?
Elizabeth: I was surprised at how comfortable Mayra was on camera, especially since she had never done anything like this, and I had only met her for two minutes several years before. She and the entire Aguilar family were very warm and welcoming. They really opened their home and their lives to us, and we felt honored that they liked us enough to let us tell Mayra’s story!
DBTC: The fact that Mayra is a female and Mexican is not something you often see in a typical surf film. Why is this important? How do you think it will be received?
Paul: Mexican women are very strong. Like the Juchiteca women of Oaxaca, the women in rural Baja are extraordinarily resilient, and the environment is so harsh. But the rural women don’t surf, that is still reserved for the more urban Mexican women. That was one aspect that really attracted us to Mayra, she was the first in her town, and because of her, more girls will follow. They already are.
DBTC: How is Mexico as a setting a significant aspect of the film?
Elizabeth: I think it’s really significant because I don’t think most people outside of Baja really have an understanding of what everyday life in a small Baja village is like. Discover Baja members get it, but your average person only knows Baja by what they see on TV, and that’s usually a one-minute news story that inevitably negative. It’s such a shame because Baja is a beautiful place with lovely people who live and work there. I also think visually Mexico sets a tone for the film that is different from a film you’d see made in the US.
DBTC: What’s the message you are hoping that people will take away from seeing the film?
Paul: We really want people, all people, to see themselves in Mayra. We want people to see a Mexico and a people that are rarely portrayed, especially on the big screen, we want people to see Mexico and it’s people as they would see their own family or their friends because we really are so similar. Mayra doesn’t live in poverty or deal drugs and she is not clambering to get over the border, she is actually like most Mexicans, just living her life and contributing to society. Oh and she surfs really well!
DBTC: Anything else you want people to know?
Elizabeth: Don’t worry surfers, we purposely don’t reveal where Mayra lives except to say that she’s in Baja, Mexico, but if you’ve ever been to Mayra’s town, you’ll know exactly where she surfs!
Paul: Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us!
You can help bring this film to the big screen by donating to the “La Maestra (The Teacher)” fundraising campaign at: www.indiegogo.com/projects/la-maestra
La Maestra Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/pages/La-Maestra/936805436334311