At Cinequest Film & VR Festival’s special Courageous Conversations program, presented by Bank of America, Bay Area filmmaker Laurie Coyle presents the world premiere of her investigative documentary Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno. The film follows the story of a mother of 12 who became the voice of migrant farm workers in California nearly 50 years ago. An unsung hero whose reach continues to grow over time, some of Moreno’s children still live in the South Bay.
The first time Coyle saw Maria Moreno was 20 years ago when Coyle was lead researcher and associate producer for the groundbreaking PBS documentary The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle. Searching for images of Cesar Chavez at the Take Stock Archive, Coyle came across hundreds of photographs of a migrant mother, organizing with her children at her side. Far from snapshots, these were master images taken by the leading photographer of the farmworker movement, George Ballis. Aside from the well-known United Farm Workers (UFW) leader Dolores Huerta, farmworker women were usually anonymous and relegated to the background in press coverage. Coyle wondered, “Who was the remarkable woman in the photographs, and why hadn’t I ever heard of her?”
As a producer of history documentaries, finding a treasure trove of photographs she wasn’t looking for was tremendously exciting for Coyle. She wanted to know more, but life as a working mother and freelance filmmaker intervened. Years later, after working on—and in one case directing—numerous documentaries about illustrious men, Coyle returned to the provocative photographs to find their mysterious protagonist. When the search began, Coyle didn’t know what she would find or whether Maria Moreno would still be living. With a measure of luck and a lot of work, Coyle traced Moreno’s life and legacy.
Adios Amor also represents a homecoming for Coyle. The year that Maria Moreno was pushed out of the labor movement, Coyle’s parents uprooted their family of nine from the East Coast and moved to the Bay Area. In those days, there were still traces of the farms that had been the heart of Santa Clara Valley. The public library in Coyle’s new hometown was built in the middle of an apricot orchard, and she and her family would collect the apricots that fell to the ground. But they knew nothing about the lives and struggles of the workers who grew the food on their table. At least, not until the California grape strike started and Coyle’s father began volunteering at the farmworker clinic in Delano. Coyle’s mother was busy raising seven kids, taking night classes, and protesting the war in Vietnam. Coyle has dedicated Adios Amor to her parent’s memory.
Although their lives were very different, Coyle felt an immediate connection when she met the Morenos, having also grown up in a big family. The search for Maria became their search, too—sharing childhood memories, visiting their mother’s birthplace, and embarking on a pilgrimage to the desert that had sustained them during their mother’s exile from the labor movement.
“I hope that Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno will inspire viewers to launch their own journeys of discovery—and to ask, ‘How is history shaped and whose voices are represented? How many Marias walk among us?’ It’s for us to draw a circle around their stories and invite them to speak.”
Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno will be screening as part of the 2018 Cinequest Film & VR Festival, including March 9 in Redwood City and March 11 in San Jose. For details, please visit the Cinequest website.
Written by Laurie Coyle