Cristina Ibarra: Passionate ‘Genius’ at the Southern Border

Cristina Ibarra

This week, FF2 Media is celebrating the 2021 winners of the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants! Today, we’re featuring documentary filmmaker Cristina Ibarra.

Also known as MacArthur Fellows, these extraordinary recipients are awarded $625,000 as an investment in their potential. Each fellow has branched out either creatively or scientifically to earn this grant and has been nominated and selected by an anonymous board that believes in their originality and insight. The winners were recently named, including many women and people of color in a diverse list of 25 “geniuses” who can spend their no-strings-attached $625,000 however they see fit. 

Cristina Ibarra is a documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. In the past, she has been the recipient of many fellowship grants and is a Rauschenberg Fellow, Rockefeller Fellow, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow along with her new status as a MacArthur Fellow. 

She is known for making movies that explore life at the U.S.-Mexico border. Her filmography includes Las Marthas — a documentary about teenage Mexican-American girls in Laredo, Texas following a tradition where they participate in a grand Colonial Ball dressed as American revolutionaries — and The Last Conquistador — another documentary about the controversy surrounding the world’s tallest bronze equestrian statue in El Paso, Texas.

In 2019, she debuted The Infiltrators with her co-director and husband, Alex Rivera, at Sundance Film Festival. It follows a group of young people who deliberately are detained by the Border Patrol for the purpose of exposing a for-profit detention center. Nikoleta N. Morales had the chance to speak with Ibarra about the unique blend of documentary and feature, and her inspiration for the film. She shared, “My father was documented. I was always thinking about him when I met the infiltrators. I had the privilege to be a documented immigrant from a mixed-status family. That really helped me understand what I am witnessing here is a one-of-a-kind leadership. That was extraordinary and never happened before and I wanted to honor that in the film. I don’t have the same issues of invisibility that they do but I care about the people who do. I was supposed to be a lawyer. I discovered media and Chicano studies in college and put the two together. I studied in secret because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer but now they are proud of me.” Read the rest of Nikoleta’s interview for FF2 Media here.

Her career has spanned nearly 20 years so far, and we are excited to see where the MacArthur grant will take her next. Congratulations, Cristina Ibarra!


© Anna Nappi (10/12/21) Special for FF2 Media.

Cristina Ibarra


Featured photo: Shot from Ibarra’s Las Marthas.

Bottom photo: Cristina Ibarra


Tags: alex rivera, Anna Nappi, Cristina Ibarra, FF2 Media, International SWANs, iswans, las marthas, macarthur fellow, nikoleta n. morales, Sundance Film Festival, Support Women Artists Now, the infiltrators, the last conquistador

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Anna is currently a senior at Brandeis University studying Film, Journalism, and Psychology. At Brandeis, she writes for the student newspaper and is the undergraduate degree representative of the Journalism program. From theaters to museums to concert halls, she loves exploring the art world in Boston as well as in her Maine hometown. Anna is passionate about FF2’s mission and excited for the opportunity to work alongside a wonderful team dedicated to supporting women artists.
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