The stories hats tell - Albuquerque Journal

The stories hats tell

Behind-the-scenes look at the filming of “Shadow Weavers,” which focuses on the art of Peruvian hat making. (Courtesy of Erica Nguyen)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Erica Nguyen’s journey with “Shadow Weavers” began in October 2016.

Five years later, the project is coming full circle as it will premiere at 12:55 p.m. Saturday as part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

“I’m excited to share it with my community,” she says. “This is the first in-person festival I’m getting to attend. It will be good to have that moment and celebrate seeing the film in the way it was supposed to be seen.”

The documentary dives into the simple, yet complex, meaning behind Peruvian hats and those identities.

Santa Fe-based filmmaker Erica Nguyen will premiere her film, “Shadow Weavers” at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

Nguyen says the project is about the literacy of these encoded messages through the documentary medium.

Over the course of her time in Peru with her all-female crew, Nguyen learned the stories behind such hats as Chushi, Siale, Taquile, Celendín and Moquegua.

“One’s hat speaks volumes about personal history, homeland, family and status,” she says.

Nguyen is a first-generation Vietnamese American who grew up learning Spanish. She is now a Santa Fe-based filmmaker.

Encountering urgent stories of assimilation in the modern world presents a real need for understanding the past; as well as creating space for belonging in the present, she says.

“I picked up Spanish as my second language and then I noticed the impact of a loss of language,” she says. “I was writing a thesis and I stumbled on some photographs of these women in the Andes. It’s like they were from another time.”

While in Peru, she began working with docuperu, which is a nonprofit that promotes, disseminates and carries out documentary processes and products as tools for expression, empowerment and democratization of communication. The organization promotes development in national and international territories and regions, prioritizing human relations and realization processes.

A crew films on the Peruvian coast for the documentary, “Shadow Weavers.” (Courtesy of Erica Nguyen)

“They do all of these community interventions and workshops,” Nguyen says. “They are totally free. We’d show up as a crew and offer folks a medium. The two years I was participating with docuperu, we were focused on the coast and we were going to fishing villages where they had issues such as water rights. I learned the ropes with how to get people comfortable with telling their stories.”

Nguyen says being able to travel out in the field and interact with real people made the difference for the documentary.

Because the crew was small, she also was an editor on the film.

“It took awhile to transition out of that excitement,” she says. “I had to make sense out of all of this and those experiences that were captured. I had an opportunity to reconnect to the words that I have.”

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