Estefania Bonilla Hernandez and Craig Whitney are on the brink of what could be one the most impactful films of the decade. After spending the past six years documenting the femicide in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez for their award-winning podcast, The Red Note, the producer and director intend to shoot a true crime drama of the same name in 2023.
The Red Note movie is a feature-length tale of a mother searching for a daughter who disappeared while working at one of the many factories, also known as maquiladoras, on the border of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
Monica del Carmen has been cast in the lead role as Minerva. Del Carmen has won multiple best-actress awards, including Mexico’s esteemed Ariel, and she played a prominent part in a film that would later earn the Camera d’Or for Best First Feature at the Cannes Film Festival. The script was written by Whitney, a former editor at the Daily Texan. Hernandez is producing.
Filmmaker Focus: Estefania Bonilla Hernandez and Craig Whitney discuss The Red Note
Production is scheduled for 2023 in Ciudad Juárez, where 1.5 million residents live in a metropolitan region that extends northward to El Paso, just north of the Rio Grande.
A cycle of violence
The three-decade history of femicide in Ciudad Juárez is well known to Hernandez and Whitney. In 2020, the pair released The Red Note podcast series about the thousands of unsolved incidents that have taken place in the area, and it has been downloaded more than six million times since then.
The Red Note movie is a fictitious narrative thread about one such incident. It will be stylistically comparable to Roma, The Lovely Bones and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But cinematic inspiration is only part of the focus: passion for Mexico and a motivation to ease suffering also drive the filmmakers.
“There is so much film talent in Mexico that the world doesn’t know about,” says Whitney. “One of the things that gives me the most joy about this project is having the opportunity to help share the talents of some of the people that are making this film with us to the world.”
“It’s not a good sign for any country to be losing young workforce in the hands of violent people,” says Hernandez. “Even if they are not going to be the next CEO, it doesn’t matter. What if they’re going to be the next leader of their communities … or an amazing teacher?”
In addition to the crime thriller, Hernandez and Whitney will also be releasing a feature-length documentary about a few specific cases that have occurred in the area titled, Flowers of the Desert: Stories from the Red Note.