Identifying Features

By Grace Bonner, Cinema and Photography '23, March 19, 2021
A mother searches for her son who goes missing while traveling from Mexico to the U.S.

“Build a wall” is a phrase we’ve heard too often over the past four years in regards to Mexico and U.S. relations. 

Directing her first feature-length film, Fernanda Valadez focuses on individuals connected to this humanitarian crisis. 

“Identifying Features” follows Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez), a mother searching for her son who goes missing on his way from Mexico to the U.S. While traveling, she joins Miguel (David Illescas), a young man recently deported also searching for family. 

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year winning the World Cinema Dramatic Jury Award for Best Screenplay and the Audience Award for Best World Cinema Dramatic. “Identifying Features” has received positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times and Indiewire

In an interview with Film at Lincoln Center, Valadez emphasizes the importance of empathy and how that plays a role in her film. Focusing on the character’s feelings, emotion is at the forefront of the narrative. 

The film’s two protagonists are professional actors but the majority are locals from Valadez’s hometown. Allowing actors old and new to connect with their characters, Valadez describes acting as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Breaking down the wall, Valadez says she wants “Identifying Features” to be a story that many from her home country can relate to and others will empathize with. 


You can view “Identifying Features” via Eventive from 3/22 - 3/28 and join the discussion at talkback via Zoom on Saturday, 3/27 at 4 pm 


Bradbury, Sarah. “Identifying Features: Fernanda Valadez Interview – London Film Festival 2020.” Youtube, The Upcoming, 13 Nov. 2020, Accessed 18 Mar. 2021. 

Gutierrez, Carlos. “Sundance 2020: World Premiere of Fernanda Valadez's Debut Feature IDENTIFYING FEATURES.” Cinema Tropical, Cinema Tropical, 17 Jan. 2020,…

Sullivan, Dan. “Identifying Features Q&A with Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero.” Youtube, 11 Dec. 2020, Accessed 16 Mar. 2021. 

Sundance Institute. “Identifying Features (Sin-Senas-Particulares).” Sin-Senas-Particulares | Sundance Institute, Jan. 2020,