Juana Hodari won Outstanding Documentary at the Dusty Festival for her film Tomasa, her portrait of a unique family of women ranchers in Argentina. This is the first in a series of blogs from 2016’s Dusty winners.
My film Tomasa depicts the strong matriarchal heritage that prevails in my Argentine- Scottish family. Living in the middle of the pampean countryside and completely unaware of the concept of feminism, the five Hume sisters and Luisa, their mother and matriarch manage a big estate, handling strong animals, and giving directions to male farm workers who are not used to a woman as a boss.
I started at SVA as transfer from Buenos Aires in 2013, and was struck by Amy Taubin’s class on Women in Film. This was the first time a teacher spoke to me about feminism. Recognizing sexism both in filmmaking and in life, I went through stages of painful acceptance, frustration, study and finally a sense of empowerment. I am proud to call myself a feminist. I felt the need to channel this new information through my work. It was all I cared about by senior year.
The inevitable question arose: where, inside a sexist society such as the one I grew up in, was there a glimpse of light? Where were those feminists hidden back home? That’s when I came up with the idea to make a film about Tomasa.
Inside the safe space of La Tomasa, a cattle ranch and farm on the outskirts of my native Buenos Aires, sexism virtually doesn’t exist. This farm is the definition of a matriarchy. The five Hume sisters and their mother, Luisa, work and lead with no male-dominated constraints. I wanted to give viewers a glimpse of how debates and decision-making are done when women are in charge. In my opinion, this has meant always choosing the least harmful outcome, even if that is not the best for the business.
However, La Tomasa still exists inside the capitalist dynamic that prevails today in Argentina and patriarchy – the legacy of colonialism — filters through even here. To me this is most apparent in the power the global chemical company, Monsanto, holds over farmers. Proprietary seeds suck nutrients out of the land and highly toxic fertilizers eventually pollute the water.
Cattle were once the pride of Argentina, as the huge expanses of grasslands were the traditional and natural pasture. Now cattle are increasing moved into smaller and smaller “feedlots” and fed soy derivatives specifically designed to hasten their growth. This is in part in order to give over more of the land to agriculture increasingly reliant on GMO crops.
Tomasa and its matriarchy are still a work in progress, one I wish to keep exploring as the years go by. In the meantime, I hope my documentary is a novel approach to a political point of view — and a testament to my own carefree memories of the Hume sisters, who taught me how to be strong and fearless.