Shot in the summer of 2019, it centres on the friendship between Mexican-American teenage directors Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía ‘Beba’ Contreras. The film, though formally drifting, holds a tight focus on their intimate relationship, developing impressive patterns and textures through an abundance of raw footage and a largely original soundtrack. The film acknowledges abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, amongst other things, but never leaves the perspectives of the two young women. A discussion of issues is never detached from their playful yet intelligent personalities, which adds a freshness to whichever subject the film chooses to ruminate on. Hummingbirds is a summer hangout movie with enduring depth and charm.
In the film, we are first introduced to directors and friends Silvia and ‘Beba’ upside down as they are captured by the camera looking up/down at the stars. Perhaps their lives have been turned upside down, or rather they have lived their lives upside down for such a long time that the sensation of instability has no impact on them. In Silvia’s own words, she has lived on the ship—that being Laredo, Texas—for such a long time that the storms have no impact on her legs anymore. Both Silvia and ‘Beba’ stand up tall over the course of Hummingbirds, but it is their groundedness that is really most astounding.
Both Silvia and ‘Beba’ are wildly creative: expressing themselves, and their struggles, through music, filmmaking, poetry and protest. They have an incredible handle on language, both communicative and creative, and their comforting humour, and ease with each other, forms the backbone of the film. The laughter, giggling, singing and dancing are absolutely contagious. Silvia and ‘Beba’ are hilariously funny, and uniquely so, having given the time and patience to feel really comfortable in each other’s presence. They engage in acts of mischief, but their delinquency is not a mark of irresponsibility. They have lived lives of immense responsibility: to family, to art, to political causes. Lives where deportation and abortion became traumatic colloquialisms from an early age. Not seeking to trivialise, they laugh and tease their way through: solving setbacks the only way they know how.
The colourfulness of the film, rooted in a determination to capture the locations organically, with images based on natural light, represents part of the Laredo Silvia and ‘Beba’ wanted to show: the hidden aestheticism and the raw memories. The directors were given a large amount of creative freedom, allowed to follow whatever whim they wanted to, and the result is a superbly authentic and personal exploration of the place and time. Both Silvia and ‘Beba’ are so relaxed on camera, contributing to a low-fi, after dark, feeling. Laredo is itself, at times, shot like a liminal space. The neon glow of empty theatres and parking lots are paradoxically comforting and eerie, while there is an effective, if occasional, use of static
cameras, with lorries, cars and bikes moving through the background of shots, to emphasise their somewhat purgatorial state.
Hummingbirds, with its desire to capture moments and memories rather than a conventional narrative story, brilliantly reflects the feeling of its two directors. Though the editing process took place over a number of years, due to the amount of footage shot, the film encapsulates the current youth cultural moment—both in the USA and globally—through a personal, local tale of deep friendship. Moments of silliness and teasing are contrasted with moments of genuine, tender encouragement and support, and part of what is miraculous about Hummingbirds is that both types of interaction taste like soul food.
Hummingbirds, directed by Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía ‘Beba’ Contreras, had its UK premiere last Wednesday at Sheffield Documentary Festival.