Things That Matter

Latina Filmmakers Are Making a Documentary Inspired by Vanessa Guillen and They Need Our Help

Many veterans repeated, ‘I am Vanessa Guillen,’ but I am the living version,’” said producer and educator, Amanda Sarabia.

Sarabia is a filmmaker seeking funds for a documentary focused on military sexual trauma (MST) and inspired by Vanessa Guillen. She first learned of Guillen’s disappearance on social media, seeing posts like Salma Hayek’s on Instagram. She followed Guillen’s story and learned more about MST through her brother, Sevie, an Army veteran. Sarabia, a native Texan residing in Brooklyn, said Guillen’s story broke her.

“Being Latina and seeing this young Latina female, even just as a human being to hear this happening to someone, is horrific,” Sarabia told mitú. “And it was that, to see this young woman and her mom and her whole family, literally pleading to find their daughter, and they wouldn’t even let them into the base to see it. It wasn’t OK.”

Sarabia wanted to do something.

“I remember talking to my brother and he goes, ‘Well, you like film, Amanda. Why don’t you do a documentary?’” Sarabia said. “And I was like, ‘I can do that.’ Our superpower is we can find stories and tell them.”

Titled “Enemy in the Ranks,” the film features Marine veteran Triste Ordex, an MST survivor, small business owner and activist. Ordex is one of the many fighting for justice for Guillen. After Guillen’s remains were found 20 miles from Fort Hood, the hashtag #IAmVanesaGuillen began as a digital space for MST survivors to tell their stories

“I barely survived it,” Ordex said in the trailer pitch video. “That is something that I have to navigate through the rest of my life with.”

It was a Work From Home Network TV and We Are mitú joint Facebook live that planted the seeds for this documentary. The two digital media sites held a special live stream of #IAmVanessaGuillen — The Project in July 2020. The four-plus hour stream featured the Guillen family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, and MST survivors of veteran and active duty. 

In September 2020, writer Abigail Vela, Sarabia’s best friend, announced their project on the Amanda Sarabia Productions website. The production team reached out to participants from the mitú and WFHN-TV joint stream, including Ordex and Air Force veteran Krysta Phoumiphat.

But they are still looking to speak to and film more survivors willing to tell their stories. 

The production company is also looking for investors and producers for the film, knowing that the budget to complete the documentary — and to do it well sans compromise — is $590,000. The funds will go toward the documentary’s production, post-production, and distribution. At the time of publication, the company has a GoFundMe with a goal of $5,000. Those funds will go toward travel expenses, film equipment, and crew.

With “Enemy in the Ranks,” Sarabia and her team aim to create actionable steps and spaces for dialogue. They hope to screen the documentary at film festivals, colleges, military bases, find a home on streamers like Netflix, educate people about MST, and have a website with resources for viewers to visit and learn more.

“I want there to be more community engagement and awareness on this topic to inform audiences about these secrecies,” Sarabia said. “ I know this topic is a very heavy one, but I want there to be hope. And for audiences to see that, yes, this woman went through so much, but look at what she’s doing and look how you can help.”

“We’re here because we want to change things, we want to change the culture and we don’t want this to happen again,” Sarabia said. Guillen’s sister, who is aware of the project, responded by saying: “I don’t want this to happen to anybody. I would never wish this to anybody.”

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