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ASU students' short film 'Hermana' takes on Phoenix Film Festival

A team of ASU students created a story about two sisters and a quinceañera. Now it's hitting the big screen at the Phoenix Film Festival


Nurya Ibarra, Lucia Mora and Rachel Carranza pictured while filming at the ASU Kerr Cultural Center on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

A short film by a team of ASU filmmakers is charming audiences at the Phoenix Film Festival this week with a sparkling blue quinceañera dress, close-to-home sets and a sibling rivalry. 

On Sunday, "Hermana" made its live-audience film festival debut in the Arizona Shorts B category. The short film, which came from humble beginnings at the Sidney Poitier New American Film School, blends the universal themes of family and acceptance with the Mexican American culture close to the heart of writer, director and ASU alumna Nurya Ibarra, who created the film for her capstone project. 

"The story is based off of my own quinceañera experience actually," said Ibarra, who studied film and media production and graduated in spring 2022. "In the movie the younger sister gets to have her own quinceañera and the older sister (doesn't) get to have a quinceañera. So that was me, with my little sister." 

Ibarra clarified that the drama existing between the two sisters in her film never existed between her and her little sister, but that she resonated with the "experience of being a Latino family in the United States." 

She said the film is "really at its core about reconciliation and choosing to love someone."

The subject matter of Ibarra's writing was as meaningful to her crew as it was to her. "Hermana" producer Valeria Valdés Cosilión, who graduated from ASU in spring 2022 after studying business management and film and media production, said she was immediately drawn to Ibarra's story. 

"I'm originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to the states when I was 7," Valdés Cosilión said. "So being able to tell (these) kinds of diverse stories is really a passion for me."

"I never really had a quinceañera," Valdés Cosilión said. "It wasn't something that I was really interested in because my family was all in Mexico. (It was) just me and my parents over here." 

Through the production process, Valdés Cosilión gained a deeper connection with the tradition that was tied to her culture, and she and Ibarra even went shopping for the quinceañera dress together. 

Lead actress Lucia Mora, a junior studying theater, came from Spain to study in Arizona and is often cast in bilingual roles. She believes her Spanish skills helped make her fitting for her role in "Hermana," but said "Spain and Mexico, even though they are very similar in some things, they are completely different in others."

Through the film, Mora was excited to learn about Mexican-American culture. Mora learned a traditional Mexican party dance for the film. She added that like her, when audiences watch the short film they will "learn a lot of traditions, and things that make that culture so special."

"Hermana" was shot in summer 2021, when COVID-19 protocols impacted production. 

"Our production involved a lot of extras … Sometimes we did not receive their COVID tests on time and I unfortunately had to turn them away," Valdés Cosilión said.  

Audience members will notice an important part of the film is the loss of the main sisters' mother when they were young. That element was the result of a script rewrite to address one actor's testing positive for COVID-19. Ibarra said this ended up adding a crucial layer to the story of the two sisters, as the girls work through a quinceañera, a "very feminine thing," without a mother. 

Ibarra said that her biggest takeaway from the capstone project was that "you really just need to have faith in the process … It's not just you fighting for yourself, you also have a crew of people that are invested in this story, that have put a part of themselves in this story."

The result of the hard work of the "Hermana" crew was a polished and heartwarming film that premiered at the film school’s 2022 Senior Film Showcase. 

At that screening, "Hermana" won two awards for best score and gender inclusivity. From there, it had a special screening at the Mesa Arts Center and was officially selected for the Hollywood Gold Awards and New York Movie Awards.

"Hermana" has screened in virtual festivals, and the Phoenix Film Festival marks a special milestone as its first in-person festival. There are still opportunities to see "Hermana" in the festival on Thursday, March 30, and Saturday, April 1, in the Arizona Shorts B category at Harkins Scottsdale 101

Single show tickets for the Phoenix Film Festival are available online for $15.

Edited by Claire van Doren, Reagan Priest and Greta Forslund.

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