Malinalli Lopez is a storyteller who specializes in stories no one else tries to tell.

The 44-year-old documentary filmmaker from Mexico prides herself on making films that feature themes that explore critical social issues. She’s intense. She makes movies with a point of view.

And as of this weekend, she is also an award winner. As part of the Alexander Valley Film Festival that runs through Sunday, Lopez will receive the inaugural Jackie Hoffner Heart & Hope Award for the heart, passion, social impact and optimism she brings to the community.

Consider her forthcoming project, a short piece about the lives of Latino immigrants in Sonoma County. The film, titled “Islands of Loneliness,” is an investigation into the mental health of Latinos who work so hard they don’t pay attention to their own needs. To film it, she interviewed dozens of Latinos, documented and not, about their experiences working in the United States and how they handle stress.

“These people work so hard, they don’t have any way or resources to take care of their emotional well-being,” says Windsor resident. “The film tries to get at why.”

Her other current project chronicles the last days of the Sonoma Developmental Center near Glen Ellen. The facility opened in its current location in 1891. It is closing at the end of the year, and management hired Lopez to capture the stories of people who’ve lived there. The film is due out in early 2019.

Earlier this summer, Lopez showed her first short film for the Alexander Valley Film Society at the Clover Theater in Cloverdale. That film, dubbed “Heart of Leona,” tells the story of a woman who is fired from her long term job at a radio station and uses the opportunity to reconnect with her ailing father and recognize there’s more to life than work.

Lopez didn’t always want to pursue a career in film; she stumbled into it. At the beginning of the millennium, during her tenure as a student at the University of California Berkeley, Lopez enrolled in Chicano studies classes and found herself depressed by the terrible conditions for Mexican women throughout time.

To deal with this sadness, she’d lose herself in historical films about different periods of Mexican history, such as “Like Water for Chocolate” and “La Bamba.” One day it hit her — these films weren’t only entertaining, they also were educational.

That’s when she knew she wanted to go to film school.

“I thought it’d be amazing to create films that teach us, but also heal us as people,” she says, looking back. “I wanted to make films that help address the questions of how we keep moving forward, how we stay inspired and how we continue to have a rich cultural imagination despite all of the ways in which society is stacked up against us.”

Lopez graduated from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University in 2015. Once she began making movies, Lopez founded her own company: XQL Media. The XQL is a direct reference to Xochitlquetzal, the Aztec goddess of the arts, a fitting reference for a woman from Guanajuato living her creative dreams.

Matt Villano

Columnist Matt Villano

Today, in her spare time Lopez serves as an adjunct professor of Chicano studies and multiculturalism at Sonoma State University and sits on the board of directors for the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Sonoma County.

She also teaches filmmaking workshops to underserved youth. Lopez brings the same passion to these roles that she brings to her filmmaking. The result: An engaged community member, challenging others to be better every day.

“I’d like to think all my work smashes stereotypes associated with Latino people,” she says. “My hope is to get people to start to think of Latinos as complex people, not just workers that you hire.”

Matt Villano is a local writer. His column spotlights good people in the community who are doing great things. Learn more about him at whalehead.com.

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