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(Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Hummingbirds which was the opening night film at Baltimore’s inaugural New/Next Film Festival. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Directors Silvia Del Carmen Castaños (they/them) and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras (she/her)—who are also the stars of their debut documentary, Hummingbirds—are both Mexican immigrants living in the border town of Laredo, Texas, the one 18 and the other 21. Despite the latter’s tenuous documentation, they sometimes cross the Rio Grande to the other side, just for kicks. In other moments, they protest in favor of progressive causes like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. Most often, they just revel in each other’s company, best friends at a critical juncture before the full responsibilities of adulthood truly sink in.

That’s not to say they don’t take life seriously, for they very much do, committed to their beliefs and determined to make a difference. But in their case youth is not wasted on the young, and in their delightful cinematic collaboration we follow along with great interest, buoyed by their infectious joie de vivre. Summer has rarely seemed so simultaneously laid-back and vibrant.

According to the movie’s press notes, producers Jillian Schlesinger (also one of the editors) and Miguel Drake-McLaughlin (also a cinematographer) were looking for young filmmakers with whom to collaborate on a feature that would explore issues of importance to them, and came across Silvia’s high-school film work. One thing led to another, they introduced Schlesinger and Drake-McLaughlin to Beba, and soon this project was on its way. As aimless as it can occasionally feel, there is nevertheless a palpable urgency and authenticity to it that makes up for any narrative roughness.

Silvia and Beba serve as excellent guides through the uncertainty that plagues not only our nation’s immigrant population, but quite a lot of other folks, too. Economic anxiety and trauma creep around the edges—even though our protagonists seem to know how to take care of themselves and family members—as does worry about the volatile politics of our era. Whether the action lands us in a Dollar Tree store, at a streetside protest against mistreatment of migrants, or at night in front of a house while defacing an anti-abortion sign, Hummingbirds flits through its various themes with a cinematic energy befitting its title.

What remains constant, throughout, is Silvia and Beba’s desire to make a difference, through both activism and art. We hear their poetic voiceovers as punctuation, see their playful defense of high ideals, and admire Beba as she plays her guitar and sings. They make quite a pair, and despite the worry expressed early on that “if you record something, you are more likely to forget it,” the two are always memorable. No one watching will be able to stop thinking about them anytime soon.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

New/Next Film Festival; Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras; Hummingbirds movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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