Interview with Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
How did you learn about the pageant?
I'm from Colombia originally. My family still lives there. I had been researching the idea of beauty pageants, how it's an obsession in Latin America. I read somewhere that Colombia's National Beauty Pageant receives more viewers than World Cup Soccer. So it's a huge phenomenon down there. And while I was down there, I came across an article about one in the prison. It seemed fascinating to me. I'd worked with Amanda before, and I really liked her work, and so I pitched it to her. And we just decided to fly down to Colombia and take a chance.
We did as much research as we could, but when we got there, it was completely different than what we expected. It was more like a school than a prison. Women don't have uniforms. They have a beauty salon, a gym. It's a much more humane prison system.
What surprised you most in making the film?
The women themselves - the types of crimes they committed, and how young they were. We have one girl in the film who's a guerilla, and one who's a hitwoman. And they're in their twenties. The life they've gone through! And then you look at the types of sentences these women got. The one who'd killed many people was sentenced to eight years. And then the guerilla who hadn't done a thing but was a member of the FARC was in for thirteen years. So when you look at it, the sentences they got didn't always match their crimes.
Why was this story important for you to tell?
For me, I wanted to connect with the culture. I left Colombia when I was seven, and it was a chance for me to find a story I felt passionate about. I was interested in the political conflict that was going on, and how it was affecting the civilians. But I didn't know what kind of story we were going to get. I knew we had a beginning, middle and an end, but I had no idea what kind of women we were going to find. I think we got incredibly lucky. What I like people to take away from the film is the passion that these women have for life. It's a search for freedom in the most unlikely place ever, a prison.