Kimberly Bautista originally went to Guatemala to make a documentary about domestic violence and the underreported issue of femicide (the violent killing of women). But that was just the beginning.
Her award-winning film Justice for My Sister, which started out as a proposed project on a graduate school application, has propelled her on a Central American-wide movement to demand an end to gender-based violence.
Justice for My Sister tells the story of Rebeca, a Guatemalan woman desperate to seek justice for her sister, who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend, in a country where the rule of law is weak and impunity reins.
One in every five women will be sexually assaulted, and in Central America more than 90 percent of domestic violence or murder cases are never solved, according to the film’s official website.
For Bautista, the eradication of gender-based violence is a personal subject — she herself was targeted and raped at gunpoint during a home invasion while producing Justice for My Sister in Guatemala.
“I realized then that the film had to be much more than an advocacy piece,” says Bautista. “It needed to be part of a larger solution to actively prevent gender-based violence through leadership development, so that participants are trained to become resources to their peers.”
So, while on a regional tour with the film, Bautista and the Justice for My Sister Collective launched 16 short documentaries on their YouTube channel to address the issue of domestic violence and chronicle the stories of survivors to encourage others to break the silence.
“Every time we screen [the documentary] audiences come forward and share their own stories. In 2013, I decided I wanted to document some of the other stories to highlight the far-reaching impact of gender-based violence and bring more visibility to other cases as well. Many of the stories in our web series are of survivors that had seen Rebeca’s story in the feature documentary and decided they also wanted to share their stories,” says Bautista.
The team has also produced materials and trainings in domestic violence prevention tailored towards a variety of audiences, including police, judges, lawyers, indigenous communities and men who work in male-dominated industries.
“Entire communities need to empower themselves by understanding how to identify the different forms of violence, as well as how to offer solutions, which is why we develop local resource guides (many audiences otherwise don’t know where to go for help) and it’s also why we emphasize the importance of healthy relationships,” says Bautista.
On Valentine’s Day, the Justice for My Sister Collective plans to host an English and Spanish web chat with different activists on their YouTube channel about self-love and smashing patriarchy. The following month, Justice for My Sister will be screened at the United Nations in New York City as part of the Commission on the Status of Women.
“In the case of a documentary that deals with human rights issues, getting an audience to see a film can be a question of life or death. I ultimately hope to affect real change in people’s lives by educating audiences about these unsolved and sometimes unreported murders. I hope that audiences will be inspired by Rebeca’s unwavering determination to bring justice to light and will question how they can contribute to diminish violence against women and rework the way they think about gender power dynamics in their own lives,” says Bautista.