“A Million Miles Away” director Alejandra Márquez Abella still has a hard time believing she made a studio feature film.
“I never thought I was going to become a filmmaker,” Márquez Abella told TheWrap shortly after the release of her latest feature — a Prime Video biopic of astronaut Jose Hernandez (Michael Peña), the first migrant farmworker to travel to space. “I never thought I was going to make one film. This is my fourth.”
Her career started over 15 years ago, writing and directing shorts in her native Mexico. And though it was just north across the border, Hollywood seemed very far away.
“I think I’ve crossed through the Hollywood doors, as Jose crossed NASA’s,” Márquez Abella said, drawing comparisons with her film subject, who was rejected to the space program 11 times. “I had to find the confidence in myself to just not die of a panic attack every day. I don’t undermine my achievement; I think it’s huge. It’s been huge for me, learning how to work in a different environment. The studio system, everything, has been different from what I knew before. It has been a difficult path for me, but a very enjoyable one.”
When asked to elaborate on the difficulties she has faced, Márquez Abella admitted she had self-doubts.
“I’m a female, Mexican director,” she said. “It’s like when I heard ‘migrant farmworker astronaut.’ To me, that sentence is as impossible as my own. It’s a matter of not being able to imagine yourself in a place. That’s why, maybe to me, it’s easier just to take it one step at a time and let it grow slowly and not be too ambitious about the whole thing because that’s too much for me. It’s an impossibility that’s become true.”
Another challenge was integrating with a studio as big as Prime Video.
“When you don’t have a big budget and you’re in an independent system, you have a lot of obstructions that have to do with money and with those limitations,” the director explained. “But when you have a big studio behind you, and you have a big budget, those people that take care of that money want to have a say. So that’s another type of obstruction. And I don’t see it as a bad thing. I don’t see it as a limitation. I see it as a creative opportunity — but it’s a different one. It’s a very different one.”
One thing that grounded Márquez Abella was shooting “A Million Miles Away” in her home country.
“We shot in Mexico City and San Luis Potosi, which is my hometown with all the fields there, which was a very heartwarming thing for me,” she explained. “Everyone [back home] has felt important — an important piece of this machinery.”
For her next project, Márquez Abella is adapting the story of another migrant figure — her grandmother. But unlike “A Million Miles Away,” the film will be a “sad story.”
“It’s a story about a woman who follows a man to the States, thinking that she’s going to get her partner back when she gets in,” she explained. “And we see another kind of migration — Chicago in the ’70s — which was factories and slaughterhouses, not the fields. It’s different, but it’s another light on the same subject.”
“A Million Miles Away” is currently streaming on Prime Video. Check out the trailer below:
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.