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Film: Lejanía (short)

Screening: Friday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m., in the “Opening Night Shorts!” block


Synopsis: “After enduring the journey to the United States, Mena arrives in Cincinnati to stay with her cousin. As she works multiple jobs to stay afloat, Mena considers the joys, pressures, and curiosities of life in the United States while grappling with the memories that seek to pull her back home.”

Grounded in simplicity but packed with emotion and complexity, Lejanía is an achingly human story about navigating new spaces and trying to make them a home. After all, it’s one thing to physically be home, and it’s another to really feel at home. Mena’s journey in this 22-minute film captures that intimate, weighty process, and pulls powerful emotions out of overlooked moments.

Mena’s journey to Cincinnati wasn’t easy. We don’t have all the details of her life in Guatemala (and only get a glimpse of them towards the end), but it’s apparent that Mena has endured a lot and the wounds are still fresh. Emotive flashbacks get us closer to understanding her story, but there’s still a distance between us and her memory. Mena keeps a lot inside, evident both in these flashbacks and in performance, but it never feels like we need more to understand her.

Her cousin has been in the U.S. for some time and acts as a guide to finding steady work and acclimating to life here. He’s optimistic and quick to voice his gratitude — there’s always work, there’s a local support system, there’s hope to be found here. In one subtly powerful scene, we come to understand the reasons for his gratitude as he describes in limited detail the perils of crossing the border.

Mena’s aunt, too, provides a depth of comfort Mena desperately needs. Having walked in her shoes years prior, her pearls of wisdom are rooted in perseverance and faith. She understands all too well the kind of pain that Mena feels, and offers hope with near certainty. However distant these three characters may be from their previous home, they prove that new lives can be built through quiet endurance.

What’s so satisfying about Lejanía is its focus on the action in between life’s major moments and milestones. We watch Mena mop the floor of a factory, dust the windows and shelves of a well-to-do home, and fill to-go ramekins with sauce in a prep kitchen. We walk with her into a foodbank and along a hill overlooking a park and the Cincinnati skyline. We see her mentally calculate money (or perhaps recall a conversation) when her cousin tells her the rent is due much sooner than she thought. These scenes — and sometimes they’re limited to just a single shot — are filmed with a wonderfully moody tone that makes you wonder what’s going through everyone’s minds. Shot evocatively and threaded together with visuals of Cincinnati, it’s a visual stunner.

There’s an emotional cadence to Lejanía that’s quiet but significant. The focus isn’t on intense action or heightened drama; it’s on the seemingly mundane moments of surviving the day, of getting by, of striving to thrive. It’s a grounded and realistic portrait of that liminal space between what has happened and what can happen.

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