Experiencing Interruptions?

What We Leave Behind

At the age of 89, Julián takes one last bus ride to El Paso, Texas, to visit his daughters and their children — a lengthy trip he has made without fail every month for decades. After returning to rural Mexico, he quietly starts building a house in the empty lot next to his home. In the absence of his physical visits, can this new house bridge the distance between his loved ones?

Over several years, director Iliana Sosa films her grandfather's work, gently sifting through Julián's previously unspoken memories brought up by the construction project and revealing both the daily pragmatism and poetry of his life. WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND unfolds as a love letter to her grandfather, as well as an intimate and insightful exploration of her own relationship with him and his homeland.

  • Iliana Sosa
    Building the American Dream, An Uncertain Future
  • Emma D. Miller
    Knife Skills, Unrest
  • Iliana Sosa
    Building the American Dream, An Uncertain Future
  • Isidore Bethel
    So Late So Soon, Caballerango, Of Men and War
  • Isidore Bethel
    So Late So Soon, Caballerango, Of Men and War
  • Iliana Sosa
  • Isidore Bethel
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Lo que dejamos atrás
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 12 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 25, 2022
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Mexico, United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • SXSW
    Austin, Texas
    United States
    March 11, 2022
    World Premiere
    Fandor New Voices Award, Louis Black Lone Star Award
  • First Look at Museum of the Moving Image
    New York, NY
    United States
    NY Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Thin Line Film Festival

    Emerging Artist Award
  • Phoenix Film Festival
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
  • RiverRun International Film Festival
  • North By North International Film Festival

    Best Feature Award
  • Milwaukee International Film Festival
  • DocYard
  • Philadelphia Latino Film Festival
  • Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival
  • Cine Las Americas
  • California Capital International Documentary Film Festival
  • Cinefestival San Antonio
  • Guanajuato International Film Festival
  • El Paso Plaza Classic Film Festival
  • Viva Texas Film Festival
  • Camden International Film Festival
  • AFI Latin American Film Festival
  • Tallgrass Film Festival
  • Flatland Film Festival
  • Tacoma Film Festival
Distribution Information
  • ARRAY Releasing, Netflix
    Country: United States
    Country: United Kingdom
    Country: Australia
    Country: Canada
    Country: New Zealand
Director Biography - Iliana Sosa

Iliana Sosa is a documentary and narrative fiction filmmaker based in Austin, Texas. A former Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, she was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, by Mexican immigrant parents. Her documentary short "An Uncertain Future," co-directed with Chelsea Hernandez and co-produced by Firelight Media and Field of Vision, premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, where it won a Jury Award for Best Texas Short. She co-produced the Emmy-nominated feature documentary BUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAM (SXSW) and was field producer for the Emmy-nominated POV documentary series AND SHE COULD BE NEXT. She was a Berlinale Talents participant and recipient of a Firelight Media Impact Producer Fellowship and Sundance Institute Development Fellowship. Her first documentary feature, WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND, has been supported by Sundance Institute, JustFilms/Ford Foundation, and Field of Vision, among others, and Iliana has participated in the 2019 True/False Catapult Retreat, the 2020 IFP Documentary Lab, and the Jacob Burns Residency with the project. She was recently named a Logan Nonfiction Fellow, a Women at Sundance Adobe Fellow, and one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2020. Iliana holds an MFA in film production and directing from UCLA and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at UT-Austin. She is co-directing and co-writing UNTITLED TEXAS LATINA PROJECT, an omnibus narrative feature that has been supported by SFFILM, Austin Film Society, and WarnerMedia's OneFifty.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

I have vivid memories of my grandfather Julián’s visits to my home in El Paso. He would come by bus every month from Durango, Mexico, and visit for just a day, bringing jamoncillo, chile, and Mexican candy. He would smell of earth, his hands weathered from working the land all of his life. My entire family has made a living by the labor of their hands. They have worked as housekeepers, construction workers, and nannies. I’m the first in my family to go to college — let alone to become an artist — and my awareness of that privilege is baked into the self-reflexivity of What We Leave Behind (Lo que dejamos atrás).

Over years of production, I filmed numerous bus trips with my grandfather Julián, traveling back and forth between El Paso and Durango to capture his everyday life, and in turn, becoming closer to him. Growing up, I had trouble understanding Julián’s rural dialect, his small-town habits, and his personal values. But making this film allowed me to get to know a man that I hardly knew despite seeing him every month. Julián gladly welcomed me into his life, showing me around Durango and indulging my questions about the past. Filmmaking pulled me closer to him, across the border and into his home. And as he began construction on a new house in Durango — intended for the whole family, on both sides of the border — the project's focus and approach shifted to something more personal. It allowed me to explore the ways migration has affected our family dynamics and shaped my identity, and it gave me space to reflect on the nuanced emotional and cultural realities of being part of a diaspora.

What We Leave Behind honors my family and tells their story — the story of people we don’t often get to see on screen — with honesty and tenderness. It explores legacy, loss, and bonds across great distances. In light of the pandemic, I believe those themes are more resonant than ever. My hope is that people who have experienced the loss of a loved one will be able to connect to the film and find some healing.