This post is co-authored by Antinea Ascione, Trinity College 2012 and Chanchala Gunewardena, Clark University 2011, Summer 2010 interns in WITNESS’ Communications department.

Last Tuesday, June 22nd we, WITNESS’ new external relations interns, were given the glorious opportunity of attending the New York premiere of Backyard (El Traspatio) at the Human Rights International Watch Film Festival. The film, presented in association with  WITNESS and Cinema Tropical, provides a fictional account of the unending series of murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Through his film, director Carlos Carrera sheds light on the true and terrifying phenomenon of female murder, which has come to be known as feminicide, that surfaced in the city in 1996 and continues to occur to this day. Backyard focuses on the constant disappearances of young women, the brutal rape, abuse and murder of those abducted, and the ineffectiveness of the police in solving those crimes. Feminicide is an issue that WITNESS  is familiar with via its work with partner La Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos. The two organizations co-produced a video on feminicide and the use of torture to force confessions from suspects in these crimes called  Dual Injustice/Doble Injusticia. The video and an associated petition were presented to Mexican president Felipe Calderón resulting in his commitment to re-energize investigations into the murders thus proving that film is indeed a powerful tool for raising awareness on human rights issues.

In Backyard, actors replace real people and graphic imagery sensationalizes true events providing  the filmmakers with the leniency to make a great deal of speculation.We found this interesting as it allowed the director to play with the different myths surrounding the murders and investigations. This is something that a documentary, with it’s roots in fact, could not do.  We could not help but wonder whether such a difference served to distance the audience from the issue or better engage them. After the film we thought to ask a few of the viewers what they thought. Reviews were mixed. Some people claimed that a documentary would have been more effective. Although they all agreed that Backyard was an amazing film, for them it was simply that. For the documentary enthusiasts Backyard made the important issue of feminicide seem too removed from their world. As one young woman said, “It comes across as just a part of the world in the film, not the world I live in.” There were just as many who disagreed. They claimed that the film drew out emotions that a documentary could not, making the issue very realistic.

Here are some comments from audience members that we were able to capture on video:

Another viewer who politely requested anonymity made the startling revelation that she had been almost raped and killed as a young girl. For her the film was extremely effective. She could not even watch some scenes as it seemed all too real. She was adamant that a documentary would not have had the same effect.

Whatever people may have felt in regards to the effectiveness of documentary versus film, the general consensus was that Backyard is definitely worth seeing. It effectively presented the issue of feminicide, getting under their skin of its viewers, leaving them with a heightened awareness of the issue. Hopefully this provided them with a new understanding that will last long after they have left the Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater. It certainly did for us.

We also highly recommend you visit the following links:

Visit the Backyard’s Official Website (Spanish)

Backyard Review on

Read more about WITNESS’ efforts to address Gender-Based Violence

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