Lourdes Portillo, ‘The Devil Never Sleeps’ Director, Dies at 80

Lourdes Portillo, filmmaker of the 1994 documentary “The Devil Never Sleeps” and a visual artist, investigative journalist and social activist, died Saturday in her San Francisco home. She was 80.

Portillo focused her work on writing, directing and producing film and videos that centered the emotions and circumstances of Latin American, Mexican and Chicano experiences. Portillo’s documentaries blended modes of storytelling to focus on themes of identity and social justice in the U.S. and Latin America.

Portillo was 21 when she first helped a friend out on a documentary, after which she began formal film training. She produced her first film in 1979 called “After the Earthquake” or “Despues del Terremoto.” Although the majority of her work was documentary films, she also created different video installations and screen writings.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures currently has a gallery experience devoted to Portillo, highlighting her life and career, as a part of its Limited Series and Spotlights. It focuses on key projects of hers including “Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo,” “La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead,” “The Devil Never Sleeps” and “Señorita Extraviada,” or “Missing Young Woman.”

Portillo investigated the kidnapping, rape and murder of over 350 young women in Juárez, Mexico, which borders the U.S., in her documentary “Missing Young Woman.” Most of the women were factory workers, who the authorities made little to no effort to find or provide justice for. Portillo focuses on the testimonies of the families of the victims to unravel the layers of complicity that allowed these murders to continue.

Her documentary “Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo” focused on the mothers of Argentinian desaparecidos, thousands of citizens who disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 until 1983. Politically active mothers staged weekly protests in the Plaza de Mayo, urging the government to release information about their missing children. Co-created alongside filmmaker Susana Blaustein Muñoz, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 1986.

Portillo was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and raised in Los Angeles. She is survived by her three sons and younger sister.

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