After the landmark Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage in 2015, the international campaign for gay marriage rights can feel inevitable. But just south of the United States, Mexico is still going through the painful state-by-state struggle. When Christina Herrera Borquez decided to document one of these landmark struggles for the right to marriage, she thought the struggle would take place over a few months. Two years later, she finally filmed the wedding of Victor Fernando Urias Amparo and Victor Manuel Espinoza on the steps of City Hall in her hometown of Mexical. With No Dresscode Required, Borquez manages to capture a fascinating legal procedural, as well as the emotional turmoil endured by the couple.
Lesley Coffin: When were you essentially brought into their lives to document this moment in history?
Christina Herrera Borquez: I got a phone call from a mutual friend who told me they were going to pursue legal action involving this loophole. The minute she described what was happening and what could potentially happen, I knew we needed to document it. It was only happening in a couple of states, so if it happens in our state, which is super conservative, it could happen all around. So we started shooting way at the beginning, but we were also naïve and thought, this is going to take three months, and then we’re going to be done with it.
Lesley Coffin: The film describes how this just dragged on for months, and that they were getting phone calls the morning of to come to the marriage office that afternoon. So if they had to be on call all the time, I imagine you had to do the same.
Christina Herrera Borquez: I did, and at the time I was living in Mexico City, so I had to use my day job’s salary to pay for my last minute trips. I can recall a couple of times that I couldn’t be there because I was working on a project, and I had to hire a cameraman to go down there to follow them around. I can also recall a couple of times that I came down to see or my mom a friend, and they got a call while I was there. So I would just pick up my camera and run down to capture what was going on. I watch the movie now and I’m just amazed how much I managed to capture. Some people have said, it looks like you moved in with them.
Lesley Coffin: Did you have to work with their friends and family to provide back-up, in case you couldn’t make it, and use cell phones or personal cameras?
Christina Herrera Borquez: I begged them, please take out your phones out and capture what you can. But they either wouldn’t do it or the footage they got was unusable. But I appreciated it when they tried.
Lesley Coffin: When you talked to them about your plans to document this, did you set ground rules or make promises that you would follow through, if they allowed you into their lives?
Christina Herrera Borquez: The ground rules were established at the beginning. I gave them some basic ethical rules that I would follow on any documentary. And I asked them promise me a couple of things. But we talked about that at the beginning when we thought it would take a couple of months. As it started to drag on, and things got more difficult for them emotionally, I had to keep telling them “I need to be here.” Over and over again, I had to tell them that. And I learned on this film, you have to prepare for the unexpected. You have to prepare for it to take longer than expected. To be more difficult. There were times, when things were so difficult they said they didn’t want cameras around, they wanted me there but not the cameras, but now they tell me “you should have shot that day.” That was the biggest lesson I learned on this movie.
Lesley Coffin: What kind of research did you have to do to make this?
Christina Herrera Borquez: I had made documentaries before, but I approached this one completely differently. Most of the research I did was on marriage equality. And I started to go back and forth with how much of the legal and personal I’d use.
Lesley Coffin: How did you find the perfect mix between their personal, emotional story and the legal elements explained by the attorneys?
Christina Herrera Borquez: Both lawyers were insistent with the public and with me, that everything needed to be done in the open and to the letter of the law. They explained every step they took, and made sure I understood. But it was my editor who said we needed to intertwine the legal and the personal even more. And the reason he suggested that, and I agreed, was we kind of knew the LGBT community would be our audience. But we wanted people who aren’t already involved in the fight for gay marriage, or maybe even against gay marriage, to see it. We want those people to understand the legal justification and process behind it, and see the person behind it living and breathing this problem. That’s how people find empathy for the struggles different from themselves.
Lesley Coffin: There’s an element in the film that I had no idea about, this premarital counseling that’s like the counseling Catholic couples have to get before they can be married in the church. Is that a national law or specific to that specific to the county?
Christina Herrera Borquez: That idiotic concept is specific to that county. My state has a meeting you have to go to but it specifies the legality of marriage, and what will happen if you get divorced. But this couple has been doing this for 20 something years. And a few governments ago they got together with the mayor of the town, saying they want to give these talks about marriage, and said they should be written into law. And they’ve been getting away with it for decades. the problem is, no one has taken them to court. These are religious talks required by the government. They should exist in the church, not in city hall.
Lesley Coffin: While you were going back and forth between Mexican City and Mexical, did you notice the divide between those cities that have it on the books and those smaller towns still fighting?
Christina Herrera Borquez: It’s my personal opinion, but I have to say yes. Mexico City is a fortress, a world within itself. They are much more progressive, we’ve had a left-wing government for years. And the difference in the two environments can’t even be compared. And Mexicali is more conservative and religious, but there are a lot of progressive people there too. But if the people in places like Mexico City really cared about the rights of all people, they would care about the rights of their neighbors. I don’t see people concerned with the rights of people in the next state, which means we need 20 people to fight for these rights all over, rather than one victory leading to another. And then you think, we aren’t united in this cause, but the Church is united, that’s what makes them strong.
Lesley Coffin: Did they have say on the final cut?
Christina Herrera Borquez: No, I told them they wouldn’t right away because it was going to be such a hard task to edit and decided what to keep and what to let go of. And by the time I’d started editing, they were at the height of their visibility in Mexico. So I had to tell them, we trust each other, you have to trust me. There was only one clip I asked for the green light on, because it involved their families. Otherwise, I knew I’d get too much feedback. They saw the movie for the first time when we played at Palm Springs.
Lesley Coffin: What was their reaction?
Christina Herrera Borquez: Tears, tears and more tears. They hadn’t seen anything and we’d stopped filming about a year before, so they said all these memories just came rushing back.
© Lesley Coffin (11/14/17) FF2 Media
Photos: No Dresscode Required & filmmaker Christina Herrera Borquez