By Cambria MATLOW


Documentary - Development 2024

Explores the fictional reimaginings of a Latinx Jewish teacher from Los Angeles who, through writing, reckons with the erasure of her Ecuadorian immigrant father during her childhood. A tense, emotional journey about American identity, creation and belonging for a woman whose vital voice grows louder through storytelling.

    • Year of production
    • 2024
    • Genres
    • Documentary, Drama, Female director
    • Countries
    • Languages
    • Budget
    • 0.3 - 0.6 M$
    • Duration
    • 90 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Cambria MATLOW
    • Writer(s)
    • Melanie WHITE, Cambria MATLOW
    • Producer(s)
    • Jessica DAUGHERTY (Shrine13)
    • Synopsis
    • The film begins in 1987 at LAX. A fictionalized version of our documentary subject, Melanie, is 18 years old and bravely boarding a plane alone. An attendant checks her ticket and it reads “Quito” This story is about why this character is getting on this particular plane and it’s about why the documentary subject, Melanie White, has yet to get on that plane herself, even today.

      We meet the real Melanie White through interviews, book readings, and verite scenes of her everyday life now, as a 50-something English teacher in Torrance, CA. She is writing her first book; the story of how she lost her biological father and part of her own identity in the process. Melanie is investigating what happened to her father as she peels back the layers of her identity and family history. She writes to fill in the gaps of personal memory that were stolen from her, and to empower her main character with the self-knowledge she wished she had growing up. In the process of creation, Melanie finds connection with her father and Latin heritage.

      Melanies stories take us to Los Angeles, 1967. Archival reels depict life in the late '60s, including how people talk about and treat Latinos. These scenes bleed into crafted sequences: Ann, a naïve young Jewish woman from Southern California, meets non-profit worker Jonás from rural Ecuador. A gathering of 20-somethings in a summer-of-love-influenced apartment quickly turns into a romance for Ann and Jonás, which catapults them into a surprise Christmas wedding in Ecuador. Ann returns to Los Angeles to prepare for a life in Ecuador with Jonás, second-guessing her marriage for three months until one night Jonás shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep with a small suitcase. Soon they become pregnant, and this is Melanie.

      We land back in Los Angeles, 2006, when Melanie’s adopted father dies, and a photo album showing her biological father, Jonás, materializes. This is when Melanie begins writing her novel, a fictionalized account of her parents’ romance. But Melanie gets stuck quickly. It’s only a chapter long, the story doesn’t even include her, and there is too much to process. She seems to be the only person who has never seen herself as Latina. She feels shame for not being able to speak Spanish. She doesn’t know if her father is even still alive.

      Melanie's only support comes from her half-sister, the director of the film, Cambria Matlow, who recorded all of their phone conversations as Melanie spent years trying to understand how she lost a whole half of herself. The conflict and the beauty of Melanie’s story is underscored by luxurious landscape cinematography laced throughout the film juxtaposing Los Angeles with Ecuador, emphasizing her feeling of belonging neither nor there. Through the internet, we have located Melanie’s father. Jonás is alive and living in Los Angeles…