From the Classroom to the Theater – “Luchadora” Debuts at SIFF

Featured image above by Jonathan McIntosh (CC BY-SA 3.0).

You start out wanting to make a film with an environmental message and, somehow, wind up making a film about a kick-ass woman in a sport of supercharged masked Mexican wrestling. For most, that sounds an unlikely path to success, but for local filmmaker Amber Cortes, it’s the path that took her new short documentary film, “Luchadora,” to the Seattle International Film Festival.

Cortes, a graduate student with the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership program, took a filmmaking class with instructors Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill – both journalists and documentary filmmakers themselves – in fall quarter of 2014. The class required shooting, editing, and producing a short documentary film in just 10 weeks.

Originally, Lucha wasn’t even on Cortes’ radar for the project. She started with a wildly different topic – the clean-up efforts of the Duwamish river. But through some networking on that project she was led to Jose Gomez, who runs the Lucha Libre Volcanica school in Renton. Lucha libre, the famed Mexican sport of theatrical free-wrestling, is, of course, huge in Mexico, but the Pacific Northwest has a surprisingly strong community of Luchadores of its own.

Cortes dropped in to check out a day of practice, and knew then that her film would to take an entirely different direction. “I saw the first few seconds and thought ‘this is really cool,'” she said.


La Avispa in “Luchadora”

While initially wanting to focus her efforts on the concept of the different identities of the masked Luchadores, it didn’t take long for her to find a lead character for her story after meeting La Avispa, a female luchadora practicing at the studio. “She was the only woman training at the time,” said Cortes, who spent multiple days filming at the studio and with La Avispa in her daily life to capture the story of how she rose to prominence on the Seattle lucha scene.

The project for class wrapped up all the way back in December of 2014, but the Luchadores didn’t compete again until spring time, so Cortes had to wait until April to film an actual bout featuring La Avispa (who also, apparently, regularly dominates in the ring).

The final product had its big debut at SIFF on May 24, with La Avispa and other fully-masked luchadores in attendance. For Cortes, it was great exposure to a film that she hopes carries a positive message for viewers. “I just hope it encourages people, especially women, to check out Lucha,” she said. “It’s really fun, and if you’re moving, chances are you can try it.”

Cortes will also be screening Luchadora at the Comm Lead program’s annual Screen Summit event on Friday, June 12 at 6:00 PM – RSVP here.

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