“When I paint, I feel happy, so it’s a good way to start my mornings, to just paint on something, and what better place than my face?” says Inocente Izucar in the Oscar-nominated documentary short Inocente, which follows the life of the 15-year-old artist. Each day she coils curls of vibrant colors with delicate accents around her eyes, and her paintings are equally vibrant with their richly colored abstract forms and playful creatures. Yet Inocente’s life is hardly as cheerful, as the undocumented teenager has spent the majority of her life homeless or in shelters with her mom and two younger brothers.
As Inocente explains, even her classmates at her San Diego school don’t know that she’s homeless, and the film is a rare look into the often hidden struggle of many illegal immigrants. Inocente’s abusive father was deported to Mexico, and once her mother walked hand-in-hand with Inocente to a bridge where she planned to have them both jump off together. The film manages to capture all this with respectful poignancy without it becoming too sentimental, and the overriding spirit is Inocente’s drive to create as an artist and the strength she’s given by her work. “I think my life depends on me being an artist,” she says. Through the nonprofit ARTS: A Reason to Survive, she’s provided a chance to make 30 paintings for her first real exhibition.
Directed by Sean and Andrea Fine (whose feature documentary War/Dance on teenage dancers and musicians in a Uganda refugee camp was nominated for an Oscar in 2007), the film received some funding support from Kickstarter last year. Whether or not their film wins at this Sunday’s Oscars, after watching Inocente you’re left with tremendous hope for this promising young artist whose creativity is an empowerment for her future. As she says: “If you want your dreams to come true, you have to make them come true.”
The full film is available online at MTV, and the trailer is below.