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How do you portray drug addiction in a film? This is one of the difficult questions we had to answer as we followed Luisa Dominga in the Chureca. Sniffing glue was part of her daily routine. She would usually spend 5 cordobas (20 cents) per day to buy the glue that would help her through the day. 5 cordobas is roughly a quarter of what she can earn begging every day. She uses the rest to buy rice, beans and soap. Some days, she would have give up on the glue because she did not make enough.
The glue she has been sniffing since she was 12, is extremely toxic. She inhales it because, as she says in By My Side, it helps her remember her son, who was taken away from her at birth. It helps her battle the loneliness and the hardship of the Chureca. Portraying her addiction was really a challenge, because we wanted to avoid pathos. A lot of people don’t sniff glue in the Chureca and we had to avoid showing Dominga as “a poor young woman”, who had to do it to survive in the landfill. As Noel, one of the main participants of the documentary, puts it: “Nobody put Dominga on that path, she chose it herself”.
Dominga started sniffing glue and ended up in the Chureca when she was a child, because something terrible happened to her. But at the same time, a lot of people in the dump, have to deal with abuse. In the end, showing Dominga’s addiction was really a balancing act for Jackie French, the editor and co-producer of By My Side, and for myself, because the glue is not what defines Dominga after all. It is her incredible strength and will to survive, that really drew us to her.