Nuestra Voces (Our Voices) Director Diana Paez Talks About Exploring the Latin American Migrant Story in Australia

Diana Paez is an emerging filmmaker in Australia, and with her first feature documentary Nuestras Voces (Our Voices) she helps bring the stories of migrant and refugees from Spanish-speaking communities who arrived in Melbourne between the 1960s through to the 1980s. With personal stories and experiences, Nuestras Voces explores the challenges of settling into a different society, the fight against racism, the search for a foundation of their own cultural identity in Australia, and more.

Nuestras Voces is screening at the Moro Spanish Film Festival, with Q&A sessions at select screenings. For more details, visit the Moro Spanish Film Festival here.

Congratulations on your film Nuestras Voces. It was really very fascinating and very intriguing and something that I’m very happy to have been able to spend time watching and learning from.

Diana Paez: Thank you. It’s great to hear that that you saw it.

Where did the idea for this film start?

DP: There’s an organisation here in Victoria called Latin Stories. It was started by two Mexican women and they started giving visibility to stories of Latin Americans in Australia. Everything in English because the idea is to kind of integrate and educate the Australian people and society. It started as a blog and then they had projects like workshops and exhibitions. That started growing and capturing more attention from people.

Conversations started with important people in the Latin American community, people that have been in Parliament, or a woman that has won the Order of Australia. [Latin Stories said] “Okay, it’s time to do a bigger project,” and the idea of Nuestras Voces came up which is a project that includes documentary film and also a report for the government and some activities with the community. And that’s when I jumped in the project, because I’m a filmmaker, and I’ve been doing some promotional videos for Latin Stories workshops and activities. They approached me “We have an idea, what can we do? Let’s make this possible.” We started brainstorming, and it happened, and now it’s a film.

It’s got to be pretty exciting for you to have it completed and out there for people to see. What has been your journey to becoming a filmmaker?

DP: It has been very exciting. As you said, this process and being able to have this film today, my first feature documentary. I did a couple of short documentaries, this is the first feature, and it’s going to the Spanish Film Festival. So I couldn’t be happier. I was born in Mexico, but I grew up in Colombia. And I came to Australia eight years ago to study filmmaking, with a scholarship. Through the journey and I think also because of the context of this country, I became really, really interested in the documentary genre. I find a lot of value in films that tell stories and that make us discover other perspectives. I think it’s a very, very powerful tool. I have also been working a lot with stories from migrants, refugees. In another project, I’m also working with stories of refugee women.

I started with smaller audio-visual projects, usually towards testimonies of human stories because that’s something that really fascinates me. And this country is like an unlimited source of different stories, different cultures. Then Latin Stories project came. It’s been just wonderful because I was able to connect more with the history of the Latin American community in Australia, which I didn’t know much about. I am a more recent migrants, and we have kind of very different reasons for migrating. Through that process, I also learned a lot about Australia which is a very young country, really.

As you’re saying, you’re a recent migrant hearing the stories of people who have been here for decades. Did you find yourself relating to their stories? Or did you see that things have changed since they’ve arrived?

DP: Absolutely. And yes, I feel that that’s part of the beauty of these stories and I’m really excited for more people to see it. Even if you are a migrant that didn’t come four decades ago, but ten years or five years ago, you will find things that you relate to, like emotional journeys that you can relate to. I believe if you haven’t been a migrant, you can relate to things because at the end, it’s about change and about human interactions and about Australia. I think things have changed a lot. There are different challenges.

Back then Australia was coming out of the White Australia policy, that was a big challenge. But also when they migrated, Australia needed people. So they had a lot of services to settle. Much easier than now when it’s harder to get a visa to live here. Even myself, I’m still trying to get residency here.

But I came to a country that is way more open to other cultures, and where it’s more normal to be different. It sounds a bit strange. Which is a fascinating thing. And I think Australia has succeeded a lot in being a multicultural country. It has a lot of things that we still need to work on. But the beautiful thing is that we are all part of it. I think this point in 2022 is not to blame just one part of Australian society. We can all contribute to make it a harmonic place.

One of the stories which I found really fascinating and kind of hints at how much has changed over the years is one of the gentleman talking about how he was so excited and he was dancing and singing in the street, and then a police officer told him off. Obviously nowadays, there’s a lot of singing and dancing in the street, maybe not to the extent of in Colombia, but certainly it does happen. What were the stories that you heard that surprised you throughout the filming?

DP: That one particularly a lot, especially because Melbourne is such an artistic city. And I was like I can’t believe in the 1960s, which, if you think about it, is not really that far. It’s just like a few years ago in terms of the history of a country. I was like, ‘Wow, how come that happened in Melbourne?’ Or even the strong racism that some people experienced, even people like Spanish migrants that looked pretty European, white European, and they even experienced a lot of racism. I was very surprised by that. Very surprised and amazed to see how the music environment in Melbourne kind of progressed, because nowadays the Latin American music is very popular, it’s kind of trendy, but back then it was like a new discovery for everyone. And I feel it would have been fascinating for these people to bring those roots and start seeing people interacting with different sounds. That especially resonates with me a lot, the arts and the music. It’s beautiful, and it connects humans very easily.

What does it mean for you to be an emerging filmmaker here in Australia at the moment?

DP: I feel privileged, to be honest. Maybe some people would say it’s not that big an industry and somewhere else maybe there’s more opportunities. But I do really feel especially because I’m interested in life stories, it is a great place to be to tell stories. I also feel the government and in general different organisations are very interested in investing in the arts and investing in listening to other stories. I guess it’s becoming trendy to listen to different communities and minorities. And that’s something that interests me a lot. So I’m really curious to see what will happen, but also excited.

This project is proof that it’s possible to make films here in an independent way and make it sustainable, because there are people that want to hear. Now being part of the Spanish Film festival, it’s going to go to different cities in Australia. So it is exciting. And I’m already looking for different stories, connecting with different people to see what’s next.

What I love is there is this huge array of different people that you get to talk to. At the beginning of the film there is the title saying because of COVID, a lot of the interviews had to be filmed remotely via Zoom. Maybe it’s a bit of a happy accident, but what I loved about that is it kind of gives us a look into their lives, their home. It’s an invitation into their home and we get to experience a little slice of their life in some capacity. What was that like for you to capture those interviews remotely and to engage with this community?

DP: As you say, today I can see it as a happy accident. It also tells a story of the time we’re living. But while it was happening, it was pretty stressful for me as a filmmaker, because I had a creative plan of going to their houses, filming with multiple cameras, lighting-wise. I wanted to be able to also film them, you know, making a coffee, not just talking and talking. So that was a bit hard in terms of ‘Okay, how am I going to tell the stories if I cannot even visit them, see what they do in the morning, see what they do at night, what do they do in a normal day?’

But then, all those things that probably artistic-wise would make it more attractive or fancy kind of stops mattering so much, because then you’re like, “Wow, the stories they’re telling are the important thing, and how am I going to find common themes and a line to pull them together?” That was also a massive challenge, because there were so many different stories. For me, that was the strongest process: editing probably thirty-five to forty hours of footage to short things that hopefully keep people engaged.

The good thing at the end [was] we had kind of breaks from lockdown. So I was able to visit a couple of them, and that was just beautiful, to see them in real life, a real size person. I already knew them because I knew their whole life story, and they were beautiful with me. And I was able to do that, to have a coffee with some of them, have a wine, talk about something, go through their photos of their beginnings in Australia. I’m grateful at least that could happen with some of them. So yeah, the time made it different and special. And I think in a few years, we will be even more grateful that we were able to make it through COVID and we didn’t wait to start the project after it finished.

What I love as well is the beautiful archival imagery and the pictures. Were they from the actual people you interviewed? Or did you have to go into archives to access some of the footage there?

DP: There was a bit of everything. That was one of my biggest jobs and also one of the things that consumed more time. Because many of them did have some photos and I went through a lot of albums that they just gave me and tried to find out who is who and talk to them and ask them things. Many of them didn’t have anything because they came [when they were] little or they moved a lot through cities, through countries, and they didn’t keep things. So I started researching in Australian libraries, in the Chilean museum as well. I contacted them, talked to them over the phone, told them about the project. They were super helpful. Tamara [Ortegon] who is part of Latin Stories, she also helped with all these admin to get photos, get permissions. We needed to pay rights for most of them. But I think Australia has a very good archival material in many different places. It was just a matter of time and research to find exactly what I wanted so it could match what they were saying and it was true. We were showing images and videos of the actual time they’re talking about.

There is something that is really quite powerful about the way that you’re uncovering these stories, which almost feel like they’re being uncovered for the first time. What does that mean to you to have that kind of responsibility to be able to share these stories for many people who are hearing them for the first time or engaging with them for the first time?

DP: That’s a big word. And the funny thing is I felt it a lot through the process. Because it was a very independent little production. I had all the support always from Latin Stories that started the project. But production wise, it was pretty much me doing everything, of course with help from sound designers, subtitles, some admin with Latin Stories. But then I had many sleepless nights because I was like these stories are so fascinating that we really need to honour them, and how to honour all of them? Which is tricky because the story also needs to be engaging. We would love to tell the stories of the thirty people that participated, each story could even be a documentary itself. I feel it might sound very abstract, but it’s been a bit of intuition and when listening to the stories and putting them together what feels good, and what highlights the best out of humans, in this case of these people that came decades ago to Australia. Also, showcasing the challenges of how they went through it.

I feel at the end, the most beautiful thing was seeing the resilience they had, and how they were not only in survival mode, but they wanted to thrive and also be part of the society and help in wider ways than just their own lives. Also for me, because I’m twenty-seven and I came eight years ago, and I was like, “Wow, in what moment did this happen? And I am the one listening to the stories, editing the story, deciding what frame to use, what colour to put, what music goes there.” I feel very privileged, to be honest, and I’m glad Latin Stories trusted me with this project, and that these people connected so much with the project, and that we are able to acknowledge their stories and their lives, because many of them probably don’t even know how much they have really contributed to this country.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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