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Hummingbirds

It feels limiting or a disservice to call "Hummingbirds" simply a documentary. This quiet gem from best friends and first-time filmmakers Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía “Beba” Contreras is so much more than that. A glowing self-portrait of their friendship, a call to activism, a summer bestie comedy full of devilish antics, and a frank immigrant story, this bold slice of life defies easy categorization. As Silvia and Beba sing, dance, and make mischief, they seem to be daring you to try and slap a label on them, their challenging circumstances, and the complexities of their border town lives.

Shot in the summer of 2019, "Hummingbirds" has no clear narrative structure or any discernable plot. We are quite literally following Silvia and Beba as they go about their lives in Laredo, TX, a barren town that shares a border with Mexico, and all of the difficulties that bring them as Mexican immigrants with uncertain futures. Each has been forced to deal with adult pressures since childhood, and the memories of those experiences come rushing back frequently. Between giggles and jokes, Beba recounts crossing into the country under the cover of night, riding on her mother's shoulders. Now, Beba waits patiently for an update on her immigration paperwork. Actual citizenship feels like a pipe dream; setbacks are met with equal frustration and resignation.

Even when "Hummingbirds" takes on the contours of a summertime romp, it highlights the friends' immense individual talents and activism. The lack of a clear narrative allows more natural conversations to occur, avoiding the pitfalls of heavy-handed messaging. It is in the midst of one of these friendly interactions that Silvia mentions a past abortion in the previous year. Silvia (who uses they/them pronouns) is a brilliant writer and poet who proves an eloquent wordsmith and advocate for Planned Parenthood when they're not vandalizing anti-abortion propaganda with their friend Jeffrey in one of the film's more lighthearted sequences. Beba's musical gifts are displayed in passionate, joyous tunes that play like a soundtrack to their lifelong bond.

While there are heavy topics that Silvia and Beba must navigate, "Hummingbirds" is also just a lot of fun. It feels like we're being let into a secret club, running alongside them as part of their pack, eating loads of street food, getting tattoos, being young. This is never realized more than in a hilarious scene where the two, wearing oversized, ridiculous sunglasses picked up at a convenience store, giggle their way through a Bingo match, disrupting the other players and Beba's mom, who is none-too-pleased about it. A night of bowling to celebrate Jeffrey's birthday finds Silvia and Beba tossing aside adult problems and fully enjoying their youth, even if it's just for a night.

While Silvia and Beba sought assistance from more experienced filmmakers in crafting their debut film, "Hummingbirds" doesn't feel like it could've been made by anyone other than them. Turning the camera on themselves and telling their story in the way they feel most comfortable makes for a unique cinematic experience, one full of honesty and transparency about a segment of people that most of us only hear about in the most negative way from talking heads on TV. But if "Hummingbirds" accomplishes anything, it's to show, entertainingly and thoughtfully, that immigrants are here experiencing the ups and downs of life and just trying to make it through like the rest of us. For Silvia and Beba, they manage to do it all with smiles on their faces.

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Film Credits

Hummingbirds movie poster

Hummingbirds (2024)

78 minutes

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