A non-fiction feature film by Vicky Funari, Jennifer Maytorena Taylor and Paulina Cruz Suárez
1998 / 16mm / 88 minutes


A Mexican domestic servant returns to her home village to confront her family about a painful memory from her childhood:  she was used as a pawn in a land rights struggle, traded away by her parents to the local political boss, and at age 12 taken as one of his “women.”  As a middle-aged woman, Paulina returns to her village to confront her family about what happened and encounters a web of intrigue and denial.  Paulina interweaves documentary and narrative styles to explore the characters’ radically different perspectives and memories of this vital, resilient woman.  The film is an exploration of the lasting impact of systemic violence against women, and a testament to the power of resilience.

Paulina had its world premiere in Havana in December 1997 and its U.S. premiere at Sundance in January 1998.  It was released theatrically in the U.S. in 1999, and was broadcast on the Sundance Channel in 2000 and on Televisa in 2002.  It is currently available for educational and non-theatrical exhibition in the U.S. through Icarus Films.

Filmmaker’s Statement

Our Process:  The working process for Paulina was collaborative, involving the producers, Vicky Funari and Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, and Paulina herself.  Paulina had a strong and critical voice at all stages of the process, collaborating on the script and weighing in on casting, location scouting and other aspects of the production.  During post-production, Paulina travelled to the Banff Center in Canada, where we were editing, to give feedback on the cut and to write and record her final narration.  This relationship between filmmakers and subject was at the time unusual in documentary practice, and it went against some of the dominant tenets of documentary filmmaking.  We intended to challenge traditional notions of the filmmaker as “auteur” and of the “objectivity” of the documentary genre, while ensuring that Paulina would be in control of her image in the final film.  We sought to confront a prevalent pattern in so many documentary and fiction films, in which women, people in developing nations, and those in marginalized communities are represented as “other,” “exotic,” or “victim.”  We knew Paulina as a resilient, creative woman, a survivor, and we wanted our film to reflect this.

We also wanted to challenge mainstream, simplistic ideas about Mexico and about the relationship between Mexico and the United States.  We made this film from 1989-1998, a decade when the physical frontier between the United States and Mexico was becoming increasingly blurred and when tensions were rising over immigration and economic interdependence.  We are mixed-culture filmmakers, and we are women filmmakers.  We believe that collective well-being depends on the ability of Mexican and U.S. cultures to bridge cultural and psychological borders.  We believe that women in particular need to listen across cultures, identify our commonalities, and communicate our differences.  We want to see mass media images that tell real and complex stories, with central characters who are Mexican, female, and fully-drawn.  We want media images that foster deep understanding.  We knew we’d have to make these images ourselves.

In 20th century U.S. media, images of Latinos were scarce, one-dimensional and often denigrating.  In Mexican media, working-class and provincial women had been the central characters of fiction films, but these stories typically came to a tragic end.  In both U.S and Mexican media of the era, a Mexican maid, when she was seen in films at all, was usually no more than a passive object in the background of a scene.  In this film, Paulina is both subject and shaper of her story.

Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, Producer:  Paulina explores the ways in which significant social, economic, and human rights issues intersect at every turn in one woman’s life.  The film provides for critical discussion of deeply political issues that are at once specific and universal.  The crushing poverty that is endemic to rural life, a hemisphere-wide caste system based on amounts of European blood in the veins, and the often violent subjugation of girls and women are all crucial aspects of life throughout the post-colonial societies of the Americas, including the United States and Mexico.  Time and time again, these themes are left unaddressed by media producers and distributors in favor of “hard” news (i.e. guns, drugs, and dictators).  With Paulina, we have attempted to meet the need for films about the lives of women in rural and urban Latin American while focusing on Paulina’s inspiring and extraordinary character and life story.

Vicky Funari, Producer/Director:  This film grew out of a personal connection from my childhood.  When I was nine and my family was living in Mexico, Paulina came to work for us.  Although all the power dynamics that are typically in play between employers and servants must have been part of the scenario, as a child I only perceived love and mutual respect.  Paulina lived in our home and temporarily became a second mother to me and a friend to our family.  Her daughter Rosita became my playmate; I loved not being the youngest one in the house anymore and taking on the role of big sister.  Paulina soon knew everything about me:  she cleaned up after me, washed my clothes, found my hidden dens of Twinkies and stolen comic books and dismantled them without telling my parents.  But she rarely spoke to us of her own life.  As a child, I never noticed her silence.  She did give me one potent image from her far-away home village:  she told me about a tree in her garden that bore more avocados than her family could eat.  It rained avocados, each as fat as two of her fists.  I was thrilled, certain that Paulina and her family could get rich from that tree; but she explained that in order to sell avocados you had to have money to rent a truck to get them to the city.  Long after my family and I had left Mexico, I could still picture those avocados, rotting into Paulina’s distant, imagined native soil.

Eleven years after we’d left, I returned to Mexico, now a young woman, expecting a tender reunion with Paulina.  I got a polite, friendly handshake.  She asked why my hair was so short, offered to cook me my favorite meal of green enchiladas, and said, “Bring me your laundry, I’ll do it for you.”  But I was no longer a child, and she was not my family’s servant.  Instead of laundry, we told stories.  I told her about my life, and she began to tell me about hers.

When Paulina chose to speak, she opened a door between our worlds.  Our commonalties as women drew us together in easy understanding; yet our different experiences of class, race and culture had given us false pictures of each other.  Was this defiant, passionate, witty woman the same motherly Paulina who had cared for me when I was a child?  In the years since my family had left Mexico, my parents had spoken of her as a victimized woman, a single mother locked with her daughter into a cycle of poverty.  I was now facing a courageous soul who had defied the power structures of her village and her family, and who had raised her daughter into independence and self-respect.  My family had missed something.  Now I listened, mesmerized.  When Paulina joked, “You should make a movie about me,” I thoroughly agreed.

For me this film was a way to explore the silences between us and to replace them with speech and listening; a way to acknowledge the struggle of a respected elder; and a way to challenge oppressive norms.  For Paulina it was a chance to share her true self with a world that has so often failed to see her or hear her voice:  “I hope for the film to speak of the culture of Mexico and of how the powerful mistreat the weak.  I don’t know where this horror comes from.  I’d like to make a different world.”

un documental largometraje por Vicky Funari, Jennifer Maytorena Taylor y Paulina Cruz Suárez
1998 / 16mm / 88 minutos


Paulina cuenta la extraordinaria historia verídica de una trabajadora doméstica mexicana que regresa a su pueblo natal para confrontarse con su familia sobre una memoria preocupante de su infancia.  Durante 40 años Paulina ha trabajado como sirvienta en hogares adinerados de la Ciudad de México.  Cuando ella era niña, en los años 50, sus padres la traficaron, entragándola al cacique del pueblo a cambio de su protección en una lucha sobre los derechos a unos terrenos.  Los habitantes del pueblo la aislaron y el cacique la violó, manteniéndola como su mujer, en contra de su voluntad, durante el transcurso de dos años.  A los 15 años Paulina decidió tomar control de su destino y escapó a la Ciudad de México, dando comienzo a una nueva vida.  Paulina acompaña a esta mujer valiente en el regreso a su pueblo para enfrentar su pasado y desafiar a quienes continúan culpándola por la tragedia de su niñez.  Ella viaja con la esperanza de descubrir la verdad, pero se enfrenta con un tejido de mentiras.  PAULINA entremezcla los estilos del documental y de la ficción para explorar puntos de vista opuestos sobre esta mujer fuerte e irreprimible. Este filme es una investigación sobre el impacto de la violencia de género, y testifica al poder de la resiliencia humana.

PAULINA tuvo su estreno mundial en la Habana en diciembre de 1997 y su estreno norteamericano en Sundance en enero de 1998.  Se lanzó en teatros en 1999, y fue emitido por el Canal Sundance en 2000 y por Televisa en 2002.  Actualmente está disponible para usos educativos y no-teatrales en los Estados Unidos a través de Icarus Films.

Filmada en Veracruz y en la Ciudad de México, Paulina cuenta con la  cinematografía de la directora de fotografía Marie-Christine Camus (Una isla rodeada de agua) y la actuación de conocidos actores mexicanos como Maira Sérbulo, Loló Navarro y René Pereyra.

See The Film

Paulina is available for educational and non-theatrical purchase through Icarus Films.

Visit Icarus Films


Key Credits

A CineMamás Production
Directed by Vicky Funari
Produced by Jennifer Maytorena Taylor and Vicky Funari
Cinematography by Marie-Christine Camus
Edited by Vicky Funari and Jennifer Maytorena Taylor
Original music by Pauline Oliveros
Written by Vicky Funari and Paulina Cruz Suárez with Jennifer Maytorena Taylor
Sound Recording by Rui García and Ilián González
Sound Design by Paul Herspiegel

Key Cast

Paulina at age 8: Mariam Manzano Durán
Paulina at age 13: Erika Isabel de la Cruz Ramírez
Paulina as a young adult: Mathyselene Heredia Castillo
Paulina as herself: Paulina Cruz Suárez
Facundo: Raúl Amado
Mauro: René Pereyra
Plácida: Maira Sérbulo
Luz María: Alicia Ortega

Funding & Support

Fiscal Sponsor:  Film Arts Foundation
Produced in co-production with The Banff Centre for the Arts
U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture (now Cultural Contact)
Astraea Lesbian Action Foundation
BankAmerica Foundation
Bay Area Video Coalition Artist Access Award
KQED-TV, San Francisco
Lucius & Eva Eastman Fund
Pacific Pioneer Fund
San Francisco Art Commission Cultural Equity Grants
Threshold Foundation
National Latino Communications Center

Additional Funding & Support

Jeanne C. Finley
Dan Fitzgerald
John & Barbara Funari
Noemi Masliah
Charlene McKoin
Betty Carr & Leonard Muse
John Muse
Bill Parker
Steve Phillips & Justice Matters
Helena & Barry Schuman
Jeff & Kate Taylor
Lisa & Ben Zablocki
& Many Other Generous People

Additional Cast

Man on Bus: Carlos Arturo Corona
Bus Driver: Mario Islas Alvarez
Young Man on Bus: Jesús Barrios
Little Girl on Bus: Griselda Velazco Rojas
Decent Woman on Bus: Loló Navarro
Tourist on Bus: Vicky Funari
Franca: Emigdia Hernández Suárez
Gossip #1: Reina de Luna de Marín
Gossip #2: Josefina Hernández
Hairdresser: Lourdes Montes Salazar
Doctor: Alberto Lachica Flores
Paulina’s hands: Elisa Lucia

Additional Credits

Production Managers:  Jennifer Maytorena Taylor and Adele Schmidt
Associate Producers:  Flora Recio López, jesikah maría ross, Gretchen Stoeltje
Camera, documentary sequences:  Vicky Funari
Additional Camera:  Chris Beaver, Paulina Cruz Suárez, Sandy Anderson, Julia Barco, Judy Irving, jesikah maría ross


Vicky Funari, Producer/Director:  Vicky Funari is a documentary filmmaker, editor, and teacher. Funari produced, directed, and edited the feature documentaries MAQUILÁPOLIS (2006) and Paulina (1998); and she directed and edited Live Nude Girls Unite! (2000).  These award-winning, critically acclaimed films have screened in many preeminent film festivals, including Sundance, Locarno, Havana, Rotterdam, SXSW, and Tribeca.  Her films have won numerous awards, including Grand Jury Prize and Audience Awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival; Lifetime Television’s Vision Award at the Hamptons Film Festival; and Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Women’s International Film Festival of Barcelona.  Her films have aired on PBS, HBO, the Sundance Channel, and Televisa.  From 2006-2009, Funari directed the MAQUILÁPOLIS binational Community Outreach Campaign, using that film in conjunction with activist organizations and factory workers to promote public dialogue and social change.  Funari has been editor and consulting editor on a wide range of projects, most recently the documentary Strong!, directed by Julie Wyman, which aired on the PBS strand Independent Lens in 2012.  Funari is a Guggenheim Fellow and a MacDowell Colony Fellow.  Funari is currently a Visual Media Scholar at Haverford College, where she teaches, designs interdisciplinary media projects, and programs documentary film series for the college.  She is currently producing and directing two documentaries:  one, currently in post-production, tells a story of healthy aging, community, and ladies in a pool; while the other, in development, is about American rivers and their environmental and human histories.

Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, Producer:  Jennifer Maytorena Taylor makes colorful, character-based films about real people with extraordinary stories.  Her work has been shown at venues such as the Sundance and Locarno Film Festivals, the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, the New York Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum, and by broadcasters such as PBS, Sundance Channel, and NHK-Japan.  Jennifer’s newest film, the documentary short Visiting Day, is currently screening in film festivals and with The Atlantic Monthly’s on-line video channel.  Her most recent long-form film is Daisy and Max, commissioned by Al Jazeera America for broadcast in the US and around the world.  Her previous films include the award-winning documentaries New Muslim Cool, Special Circumstances, Paulina, Home Front, Street Knowledge 2 College, and many short films and co-productions.

Jennifer has held fellowships at the Sundance Institute, Banff Centre for the Arts, the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she earned a Masters Degree in Specialized Journalism as an Annenberg Fellow.  She is a recipient of the James D. Phelan Art Award for her body of work, and has won two Emmys as well as multiple festival awards.  A former dancer who loves Brazilian pop, honkytonk, comic books, tacos, taco trucks, Mad magazine, urban hiking, cooking, modern design, and flat-ground bike riding, Jennifer also works as an Assistant Professor in the Social Documentation Masters program and the Film and Digital Media Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  She is currently in production on two new films, one about a self-identified “redneck” Muslim hospital chaplain in North Carolina and another about acclaimed Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias.


“A remarkable documentary…  simultaneously devastating and inspiring…  assured, intelligent filmmaking… a testament to what the human spirit can endure and rise above.”  Anita Gates, The New York Times


“Combining handheld Hi-8 documentary footage with lushly composed 16mm narrative sequences, Paulina, Vicky Funari’s first feature, breaks all the rules of marketability and yet is entirely captivating…  as a ‘docudrama’ Paulina takes the best attributes of both forms… and combines them to the film’s advantage.”  –Holly Willis, Filmmaker Magazine


“Embodies issues of gender representation, in front of and behind the camera, and provides a critique of the very nature of documentary filmmaking.  Paulina is not only a complex exploration of a particular woman’s place in an oftentimes oppressive culture but also a dynamic subversion of the conventions of documentary film itself.  Joins the small but growing body of work developed by groundbreaking Chicana filmmakers that challenges the patriarchal canon defining the bulk of Chicano/Latino films.”  –Jim Mendiola, San Francisco Bay Guardian


“Gets beneath tabloid headlines and organizing statistics to capture, with great visual invention, the subjectivity and dignity and damaged nobility of a Mexican survivor… the stuff of fairy tales… in which magic goes bad… a chilling view of sexual expropriation and family betrayal, and one we have never seen before.”  –B. Ruby Rich, San Francisco Bay Guardian


“A harrowing and heroic story told through a variety of means.  Dramatic reenactments of Paulina’s accident, captivity, and escape… make Paulina something other than a by-the-book documentary.”  –Independent Film & Video Monthly


“Una combinación excelente de documental y actuaciones realistas que acompañan los relatos y voz verídica de Paulina.  Interesante y valiosa.” –El Latino


An article in Variety by Vicky and Jennifer about our experiences making the film.


“The true story of Paulina Cruz Suárez… grabs from the start.  The film’s structure… creates a jagged hyper-realism that is both fascinating and painful.” –San Francisco Chronicle

PDF | Website

Paulina, like its subject, is about fragmentation and re-creation, pulling something whole and powerful out of pieces.  Emphasizes Paulina’s tragedy but also the strength and humor that allowed her to survive it.”  Gary Morris, Bright Lights Film Journal

PDF | Website

“Paulina was ten years in the making, but its passion and energy are fresh… blending real-life and re-enactment footage with dazzling virtuosity… a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, it has a magical glow.”   Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle


“Moving portrayal… beautifully cast and photographed… impressive… in the end it’s Paulina’s engaging forthright personality that makes the film soar.”  –Rachel Rosen, Film Comment


At Sundance… “documentaries about famous people were less compelling (and less artistically exciting) than those about unfamous people… To make Paulina, Vicky Funari effectively wove scenes of the real, resilient middle-aged woman with dreamlike dramatized scenes.”  Entertainment Weekly


Susie Gerhard’s report on Sundance 1998.


An interview with Fred Salas of the San Diego Latino Film Festival in In Motion online magazine.

PDF | Website

An article from Italy’s La Regione.


The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Datebook” section on opening weekend of our theatrical run.


Other Critical Comment

Paulina  ranks as an important study of gender and class politics, and as a powerful reminder that even the most seemingly humdrum life is significant.”  Time Out New York

“One of three compelling documentaries at this weekend’s New York International Documentary Festival… Paulina is the most engrossing of the lot, a dreamlike blend of interviews and reenactments detailing how a middle-aged Mexican maid returns to her hometown to confront a horrible past.”  New York Daily News

“A fascinating documentary…Paulina received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Roxie Cinema.”  Release Print

“Paulina costó diez años de producción, pero su pasión y su energía son frescas… mezcla la vida real con las recreaciones con deslumbrante virtuosidad… fue un favorito en el Festival de Sundance, y tiene un brillo mágico.”  –San Francisco Chronicle



  • Grand Jury Prize and Golden Spire Award for Bay Area Documentary, 
1998 San Francisco International Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, 1998 San Antonio CineFestival
  • Best Documentary, 1998 San Juan Film Festival
  • Nominated, IFP “Truer Than Fiction” Spirit Awards, 1999
  • Lifetime Television's Vision Award, 1999 Hamptons Film Festival
  • Gold Special Jury Award, 1999 WorldFest Houston
  • Award of Merit in Film, 2001 Latin American Studies Association

Select Screenings

  • Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Official Selection, Documentary Competition. Havana, Cuba (World Premiere)
  • Sundance Film Festival, Official Selection, Documentary Competition. Park City, UT (North American Premiere)
  • Locarno International Film Festival, International Critics' Week. Locarno, Switzerland (European Premiere)
  • Muestra de Cine Mexicano. Guadalajara, 1998 (Mexican Premiere)
  • Hamptons Film Festival, East Hampton, NY
  • San Antonio CineFestival. San Antonio, TX
  • Leipzig International Documentary Festival. Leipzig, Germany
  • San Francisco International Film Festival. San Francisco
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival. New York
  • Sao Paulo International Film Festival. Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Göteborg Film Festival, Göteborg, Sweden
  • Immaginaria Festival, Bologna, Italy
  • Palm Springs International Film Festival, Palm Springs, CA
  • Portland International Film Festival, Portland, OR
  • Cine Las Americas, Austin, TX
  • Chicago Latino Film Festival, Chicago
  • San Diego Latino Film Festival, San Diego, CA
  • WorldFest Houston, Houston, TX
  • Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Toronto Latino/Latin American Festival, Toronto
  • Festival Cine Latino/Cine Accion
  • Australian International Documentary Conference (Stranger Than Fiction)
  • Outfest’s Out at the Village, Los Angeles
  • CineAztlan Festival, Cine Su Teatro, Denver, CO
  • Flaherty Seminar, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • In exhibition: InSite 2000, Tijuana, BC
  • National Women's Studies Association Conference Film Festival
  • Tercera Muestra Internacional de Mujeres en el Cine y la Televisión

Press Kit

Downloadable PDF