Eileen Abarrca – Actress/Filmmaker
The truth is that I was not looking for a movie to direct. I am an actress by trade–that is what I do, and that is what I love. About three years ago while hiking with a girlfriend, and sharing stories, I began to tell my parents’ history as I understood it. The more I shared, the more impassioned I became–and it became clear to both my girlfriend and I that this was the story I was meant to share. As film is a medium I love and understand, it seemed the best medium with which to share this story.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was raised by my Argentine parents who had immigrated to the U.S in the late 70’s. Like most kids, I was not particularly plugged into my parents’ histories–but as I got a little older and started asking questions, I was shocked at what I learned. My parents friends began to disappear in Argentina, and within a matter of days, my parents went into hiding and snuck out of the country to escape their own persecution. Even now, as I seek to go deeper and learn more, I feel like I have just begun to scratch the surface of the complexities of the situation.
(A picture taken during my visit to ESMA, the NAVY SCHOOL OF MECHANICS, The most infamous of the illegal detention centers in Buenos Aires during the dictatorship)
In our household, it was common knowledge that my sister, my brother, and I were all named after friends of our parents in Argentina, but that is more or less where the story ended in our understanding. With age and a better understanding of world events, we came to understand that these friends (Mabel, Emma, and Alberto), whose names all three of us carry as our middle names, were among the infamous 30,000 disappeared — the victims of the 7 year dictatorship and genocide which is infamously called ‘The Dirty War.’
As the namesake of one of the 30,000 disappeared, telling this story is both an honor and a duty. The Argentines know their story well–the wounds are fresh in their society, and the strides towards justice, while existent, are slow. I don’t pretend that I can teach them of their own history–my intention is not that. I wish to take the journey alongside those who are curious and uninformed on the subject, as to shed light on and discover Mabel’s story together.
(Eileen filming a press interview just hours after the beloved ex-president Nestor Kirchner was pronounced dead of a heart attack–just blocks from his home in Patagonia)
I have been extremely fortunate to have a community of passionate and supportive industry friends and film makers to guide me along the way. I’ve also not been shy about contacting other documentary film makers whose work I respect to pick their brains and learn as much as I can. People are busy, but most people will take time out to give a few words of wisdom or answer a few questions.
As a first time director–the biggest challenge I have come up against is obtaining funds from film grants because most grant providers (understandably) want the director’s previous work. But, when there is a will there’s a way, and that is why we have made a big push on the independent fundraising front. Our strategy has been to divide our time between grant applications, on-line crowd-funding, live fundraising events, and seeking out individual angel investors. It’s an all consuming venture, but if you believe in the story you are telling it doesn’t really feel like work–you’re just excited about getting closer to your goal! It also doesn’t hurt to have a partner that is eternally creative and supportive (Garrett Vander Leun), and a team that treats this project like their own baby, and not just a job (Christina Miserendino, Meredith Young, Thomas DeRenzo, Jorge Ortega, and Shaina Zeiger.)
(Official Movie Poster for FINDING MABEL, designed by Garrett Vander Leun)
In the fall we hosted a great fundraiser. I enlisted the help of my friends, family, and industry contacts, and managed to get virtually everything donated! With the funds raised during that event, we were able to travel to Argentina in November for an invaluable trip. We met and held interviews with The Human Rights League of Argentina, political activists, ‘Dirty War’ torture survivors, and even some of Mabel’s family. We went to a public trial for Jorge Rafael Videla (former Coup leader), and visited clandestine concentration camps. We formed collaborations with fellow film makers, and retrieved invaluable stock footage. On a personal level, it was a very fulfilling trip as it allowed me to reconnect with some family I hadn’t seen I since I was a little girl. In addition, the conversations and interviews we were having on a daily basis were heavy and infused with emotion. But despite the difficulty of the topic, people were always willing to talk to us. The people we spoke with were extremely articulate, engaging, and generous with their time. The trip was, for so many different reasons, a ‘life changer’ for me. Best of all, it enabled us to plant the seeds for our impending return.
We are now about two weeks into our fundraising campaign on Indiegogo and are excited to be raising the funds we need to get back to Argentina with our team, and complete the journey we set out for! We are especially excited because we have teamed up with The San Francisco Film Society as our Fiscal Sponsor–which means that all donations are now 100% tax deductible! We are offering great incentives for backers that range from original Argentine photography to tickets to the movie premier, to credit as an executive producer! The best thing that anybody can truly do to help if they don’t have $20, is to tell a friend! Spreading the word is truly invaluable!
My name is infused with an entire history which represents an entire generation of people, living in a completely different country than my own, with their own set of hopes, ideology, and struggles. By making Finding Mabel, I wish to honor the memory of the woman I was named after — Mabel Damora, and make my contribution to the struggle for justice for the 30,000 disappeared.
Eileen Abarrca is an Argentine-American actress who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and whose work has been seen on stage, film, and television. She holds a BA from both UCLA and an MFA The Actors Studio in NYC. Eileen now lives in Los Angeles where she is currently working on the anticipated film, The Next Cassavetes, a quirky comedy about the re-making of the famous John Cassavetes film Minnie and Moscowitz.
To Contact Eileen, visit: www.findingmabel.com