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Panel 6, May 31, 2011, 9:00 am-10:30 am
Moderator: Fernando Acosta-Rodríguez, Princeton University
Presenters: Corina Norro, Archivo Nacional de la Memoria de Argentina; Margarita Vannini, Universidad Centroamericana; Graciela G. Barcala de Moyano, Academia Nacional de la Historia; Daniela Fuentealba, Museo de la Memoria; María Luisa Ortiz, Museo de la Memoria
Rapporteur: Tracy North, Library of Congress
Corina Norro began her presentation “Los Archivos Audiovisuales: Aportes para la Memoria en Construcción” by lamenting that there is not enough money or political will in Argentina right now to preserve cultural heritage. However, she enthusiastically reported that the Archivo Nacional de la Memoria is attempting to preserve audiovisual materials. She explained that the Archives are for citizens. They are important so that no one will forget. All of history is written; this audiovisual documentation is equally as important for history.
In 2007, Argentina created the Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos with the idea of capturing the memories of the victims and perpetrators of the atrocities. The goal is to collect the many stories and experiences of all of those involved in the Dirty War. Corina made the important point that there is not just one story, but rather a diverse group of experiences. The Archive is attempting to collect stories in all formats: images, videos, oral history, etc., in order to trace the trajectory of culture throughout the Dirty War. They are collecting movies, music, radio and television broadcasts so that scholars and citizens can dissect the recordings to analyze censorship or other influences of media production during the time period. For example, they are trying to recover broadcast recordings from the 1978 World Cup which they suggest covered up the truth about what was really happening in Argentina in the midst of the Dirty War.
Margarita Vannini followed with her presentation “Memoria e Imagen: Los Archivos Audiovisuales del Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica de la UCA.” According to Vannini, the Instituto de Historia has a collection of photographs to promote and disseminate information. Vannini talked about the notion of circulating information through books, journals, and photographs as a way to broadcast the cultural patrimony of the country. The goal is to share the experience with future generations. Vannini explained that Nicaragua has experienced a tumultuous political history for the past 50 years (e.g., Somoza, Revolution, Sandinista, neoliberalism, Post-Sandinismo, etc.). She explained that small museums have taken on the task of attempting to preserve the memory of the nation. In working for a more just society, they are collecting and saving images of murals in public places (e.g., plazas and other central locations). They are also trying to capture music from the different periods of their recent political turmoil.
Vannini noted the ending of a decade of the Nicaraguan Civil War and the election of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to the presidency in 1990. She ran her campaign and took office with a peace and reconciliation platform. The Instituto de Historia is not attempting to erase the memory of the Sandinistas and the revolution; rather, the goal is to preserve the memory and cultural history of the nation: to recover the thousands of burned books; to remember the changed names of the schools, etc.
Graciela Barcala de Moyano next followed with her presentation “Clasificación Temática de Archivos Orales Sobre Derechos Humanos: Aportes para una Metodología.” Barcala de Moyano began by noting that the archivists and librarians who are cataloging the memory of the nation are working today for future generations, 20-25 years from now. They want to simplify the recovery of memory and the cataloging and preservation of oral testimony and audiovisual resources. They are seeking to develop common terms through a linguistic examination of the resources. Barcala de Moyano made the point that we use words today to describe past events but these words are different from the words that were used during the actual time period being described. She explained that the cataloging process must be objective. She discussed the unique challenge of cataloging oral history. For example, there is not a unique title for each testimony. The people who are speaking out and telling their stories are not well-known; rather, they are family members of the disappeared, so chances are there are not established authority headings for their names. With the cataloging rules constantly changing, the goal is to standardize the thesaurus so that common terms are applied across collections for future searching and access to the collections.
In their joint presentation, “Difusión y Acceso Público del Patrimonio del Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos Mediante su Centro de Documentación”, Daniela Fuentealba and María Luisa Ortiz discussed the importance of the Chilean exile experience of 1973-1989, and described the urgent need to collect, organize, store, and provide access to the vast array of resources created by Chilean exiles which are dispersed throughout the world in many formats (mostly music, some fine arts, graphic design, and photography), languages, and themes. Most of these materials are held by the exiles themselves, whether they live in Chile or in the country of asylum. The findings indicate that there was no systematic attempt to identify, collect and provide access to resources about the Chilean exile experience.
The artistic output of Chilean exiles covered many different avenues. For example, there was an abundance of literature – poetry, fiction, and non-fiction – being produced by Chileans abroad. Film and theater production have also proliferated among Chilean exiles. The films served as an educational post-dictatorship tool to show young Chileans what life was like during the Pinochet dictatorship. In addition to the primary sources (for which more research is needed to bring together and catalog all of the rich production), some valuable secondary sources also attempt to investigate and explain the massive Chilean exodus during the dictatorship and its role in shaping the history of the nation. Ultimately, there is an urgent need to attempt to identify, collect, and make available the production of Chilean exiles in all formats, languages, and themes in order to create a more comprehensive view of Chilean history during the dictatorship (1973-1989), and the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is the ideal venue to collaborate in undertaking this significant activity.
Panel 1, May 30, 2011, 11:00 am-12:55 pm
Moderator: Paloma Celis Carbajal, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Presenters: Gregory Berger, Grigoyo Productions; Shamina de Gonzaga, What moves you?; Carlos Gutiérrez, Cinema Tropical; Alexandra Halkin, Chiapas Media Project; Christopher Moore, Sol Productions
Rapporteur: Daisy V. Domínguez, The City College of New York
Paloma Celis Carbajal began by noting that she met several of the panelists at LASA and suggested they come to SALALM to promote their material to libraries and that she was very pleased they accepted her invitation to participate on this panel. Carbajal noted that Gregory Berger of Grigoyo Productions could not attend.
Christopher Moore, Director of Sol Productions, began his talk, “Film as Source Material and Teaching Tool: Sol Productions and Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas,” by saying that his goal on the panel was twofold. First, he wanted to consider theoretical approaches to memory in the documentary film genre and second, to find ways to work with librarians to preserve and provide access to these films. He co-founded Sol Productions in 2006 with the idea that the company’s films would not be the final word but would provoke more discussion about different topics. In 2007, Sol Productions produced three documentary films (in Venezuela, Senegal and France). Since their company did not have a public relations firm working with them, they traveled to over 90 schools to promote their films, but Moore notes that would not be possible this year due to the economic situation. Moore said he was excited to be at the conference in order to get ideas about how to promote their films even in difficult economic times and how to make them available in libraries throughout the world. Adding material online is one way around this but he wondered about the financial viability of it. Moore said that film is a very serious analytic tool as both a compliment to written works but also in its own right. Moore ended by showing the trailer for the Hugo Chavez documentary, “Puedo Hablar May I speak?”
Next, Alexandra Halkin, founding director of Chiapas Media Project and the Americas Media Initiative, presented “Collaborative Documentation and Advocacy.” They have been working with the Zapatistas since 1998. Due to the militarization of Chiapas, the last Zapatista video was produced in 2006. The war on drugs has filtered throughout southern Mexico and has affected their ability to produce for external distribution, though not for internal distribution. A lot of their archival material is being lost (covered in fungus in many cases) due to lack of climate control and the fact that a lot of material is still videotaped. While Halkin and her colleagues know what is needed to preserve this film, there is no funding for it and the situation has not changed. There are copies of the films in Mexico and the United States. Distribution to universities in the U.S. is critical and has sustained their work but due to the economic downturn, it has become difficult to obtain funding for travel and honoraria. The Cuban media project does not have distribution outside of Cuba and there are problems with the English subtitles in these Cuban documentaries. The work of TV Serrana, which was founded by UNESCO in 1993 and has 490 documentaries, is of excellent quality and subject matter. With funding from the Ford Foundation, they were able to add English subtitles to 20 of their documentaries. Librarians’ work is very important. Money from the sale of videos goes back to Chiapas and Cuban communities. Halkin noted that they have tried to develop a symbiotic relationship between universities and marginalized filmmakers in Mexico and Cuba and this allows them to produce more films. Halkin ended by showing a trailer from the TV Serrana Tour.
Carlos Gutiérrez of Cinema Tropical began his presentation, entitled “New Partnerships in Latin American Outreach Through Film: The Cinema Tropical Case,” by noting that Cinema Tropical is a New York City based media arts organization which promotes Latin American cinema in the United States through regional programming. Noting that the economic crisis affecting the film world is affecting all of us, Cinema Tropical is interested in collaboration with the academic library world.
Gutiérrez then moved on to describe the recent explosion of independently produced film in countries like Argentina. In the mid-1990s, Argentina produced a new generation of filmmakers that produced feature and documentary films without government funding as had been done in the past. Then this explosion of film moved to Uruguay, which hadn’t produced a film in years, and more recently, Central America. However, it is difficult to get access to material from Central America.
When Gutiérrez moved to New York from Mexico City in 1997, there was not much Latin American cinema on American screens. The so-called “Three Amigos” brought attention to what was happening in Latin American cinema. Cinema Tropical began by having weekly screenings over the course of one year which led to interest by other theaters. So, they created a network in NYC and then in the country and have screened thirteen films across the U.S., which has become part of their circuit of films. They then started doing theatrical releases, which are the main aspect of releases which guarantee reviews. The now defunct LAVA (Latin American Video Archives) was a key organization in bringing videosl from Latin America over to the U.S. and Cinema Tropical has not really found new ways of doing this.
A major issue is that there is very little knowledge on how to contextualize Latin American film and therefore, to have critical debates. He mentioned, for example, that the New York Times reviewer of “Amores Perros”directed by González Iñáritu loved the film but thought that there had not been any art house films from Mexico since Buñuel. He noted that this is one way that universities can do outreach. Cinema Tropical partnered with the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU and combined screenings with discussion. Cinema Tropical also took screenings to the Arab world and more recently has partnered with the organization called What moves you? They recently started selling DVDs to universities. Cinema Tropical also created a list of the best ten Latin American films (which also mentions 130 films) of the past decade which led to a publication. Cinema Tropical will also publish a book on Lucrecia Martel, the director of “La Ciénaga,” who Gutiérrez recommends highly. He ended by promoting the screening of “Nostalgia por la Luz” (which screened the next day at the conference).
Shamina de Gonzaga’s presentation was entitled “Film as a Springboard for Dialogue on Immigration and Related Issues.” De Gonzaga started by noting the collaboration between Cinema Tropical (which served as the film distributor), NYU (which served as the academic hub), and her organization, What moves you? (which produces awareness campaigns) on the Indocumentales film series, which seeks to show the subtleties surrounding the issue of immigration. These events are also a way to disseminate resource packets and educational materials so that the film is “not accepted as gospel” but extends the conversation. De Gonzaga noted that it is not the same to see a five minute news report about a tragic incident as watching a 90 minute in-depth documentary. She gave an overview of the five films that were screened. The first film is “Al Otro Lado” which deals with drug trafficking and the popular musical genre known as narcocorridos. Another film is “Farmingville” which follows the aftermath of the killing of day laborers. De Gonzaga noted that the strong reaction among audience members to this film in particular validates the importance of having these screenings. “Los Que Se Quedan” deals with the impact of immigration on those who stay behind. “The Sixth Section” is a short which deals with people in upstate New York which sends money back to Mexico to build a baseball stadium. “Which Way Home” deals with mostly very young Central American children who attempt to come to the U.S. by freight trains and many times do not make it. “Mi Vida Adentro” is about an undocumented woman who is accused of killing a child in her care. De Gonzaga notes that during the screenings they may have lawyers who are more qualified to answer certain questions as well as community members because it is important not to be in silos. De Gonzaga ended by showing a clip of “Al Otro Lado,” which screened later that afternoon.
Questions and Comments:
Paloma Celis Carbajal commented on films as a catalyst to dialogue so that people will be receptive to certain issues. The Indocumentales series went to Wisconsin and it was tied to an exhibit on 200 years of immigration between US and Mexico. Celis Carbajal thought of this topic because she wanted something that was of interest not just to Mexicans. This was the first time she got e-mails from the community requesting material from the exhibit, not just from faculty and students. So, this springboard from the film series worked.
Jesus Alonso-Regalado (SUNY Albany) asked whether the distributors were considering selling streaming videos. Gutiérrez said that this was not available yet but acknowledged that this is the trend. Moore said that “Democracy in Dakar” is sold digitally via iTunes but there is no distinction between individual and institutional purchases. They are behind on the process but open to it.
Daisy Domínguez (City College of New York) asked whether any collaborations had come about as a result of the dialogues at the screenings. De Gonzaga said that the resource packet helped and that it happens all the time. Halkin noted that a number of U.S. students have come down as interns to Chiapas and later, professional relationships have developed. Professors have toured TV Serrana and Halkin will be taking some of them to a national film festival in Cuba. She notes that the screenings open up the possibility for collaborations on different levels. Even individual communications like e-mails are a stepping stone toward bigger things. Moore noted that some students who are not at film schools have been motivated to pursue filmmaking and have even gone on to having their films screened at places like the Tribeca Film Festival.
Paula Covington (Vanderbilt University) asked whether Halkin had a sense of the scope of the archive and the cost of preservation of the Chiapas Media Project. Halkin said that the tapes are dispersed but that there were about 1,000 hours worth of recordings, including raw footage, on mini DV cassette and some on super VHS.
Martha Mantilla (University of Pittsburgh) asked whether there were any packages for institutions who want to invite these organizations to do presentations at universities. Gutiérrez noted that Cinema Tropical acts as intermediaries between libraries and filmmakers and mentioned packages like “Latin American Left” and “Music and Film Series.” He highlighted Brazilian filmmakers who have made a lot of films on many singers which also delve into issues of race, politics, and class but which are not distributed in the U.S.
Panel 14, May 31, 2011, 2:00 pm-3:30 pm
Moderator: Richard Phillips, University of Florida
Presenter: Carlos Gutiérrez, Cinema Tropical
Rapporteur: David S. Nolen, Mississippi State University
This panel featured a screening of the film Nostalgia por la Luz, directed by Patricio Guzmán. Carlos Gutiérrez from Cinema Tropical presented an introduction to the film itself and answered questions before and after the screening. Gutiérrez began by explaining that Cinema Tropical was founded in 2001 and is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Latin American cinema. As part of this mission, Cinema Tropical is involved in distribution and promotion of films, including activities like publicity campaigns, film festivals, and film series (like the one held at the University of Arizona each year). He introduced this film by mentioning Guzmán’s earlier film, The Battle of Chile. Gutiérrez considers Nostalgia por la Luz to be a film essay on theoretical ideas of memory. It was financed by Guzmán himself. Chris Moore (Sol Productions) asked how to order the film. Gutiérrez answered that it could be ordered through the Icarus Films website. Paloma Celis Carbajal (University of Wisconsin, Madison) asked if Cinema Tropical also covered European cinema as well. Gutiérrez responded that Cinema Tropical only works with films from Latin America, which includes films from Brazil but not from the English-speaking Caribbean.
The film focused on the themes of the preservation and study of the past as represented by images and people associated with the Atacama Desert. Guzmán began by discussing the widespread popular interest in astronomy throughout Chile, and how the region of the Atacama has attracted astronomers from around the world because its environmental and atmospheric conditions provide a uniquely suited place to study the night sky.
In a conversation between the director and an astronomer, Guzmán introduced the idea that astronomers are primarily concerned with the past because they are observing light that has traveled over time from distant places in the universe. He also used this conversation to express the belief that the present is actually the sensory perception of the recent past because there is always a time-lapse effect when observing light.
The film highlighted the connections between archaeologists and astronomers. Both groups attempt to reconstruct the distant past from the evidence they find in the present. The Atacama Desert functions as a gateway to the past for both groups: astronomers take advantage of the unique geography to study the origins of the universe and of mankind, while archaeologists are able to study the remains of past civilizations because of the preservation of artifacts caused by the extremely dry desert conditions.
Guzmán used this theme to note the difficulty of the past for Chile. While astronomers and archaeologists work to uncover the distant past, Guzmán asserted that the recent past in Chile is mostly hidden and least considered.
From that point on, the film shifted to the stories of Chileans impacted by the Pinochet regime’s repression, transposing their stories with the archaeological and astronomical research into the past. One segment of the film told the story of political prisoners learning about astronomy while at Chacabuco, the largest prison camp used by the Pinochet regime. The prisoners initially had the opportunity to observe the stars and study astronomy, but were then banned from doing so by the military because of the fear that escapees would attempt to use the constellations for navigation in the desert. One prisoner explained that the study of astronomy simply gave him and his fellow prisoners a sense of freedom. The film identified these men who survived their experience in the camps as transmitters of history.
Another prisoner, who was an architect, explained how he memorized the details of the layouts of five camps that he was in during his time in captivity. He measured the distances by pacing, and then made drawings at night by candlelight. Each morning, he would tear the drawings into shreds and throw them away. By repeatedly drawing and re-drawing the layout of the camps, he memorized them and then re-drew them while in exile in Denmark. When these camp layouts were published, they provided a shocking testimony of the abuses of the camps. Guzmán stated that this man and his wife embody a significant metaphor for Chile: memory and forgetting. The former prisoner remembered what he suffered in the camps, but his wife forgets more and more as she suffers the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
The film reported that the commission charged with investigating the human rights violations that occurred under the Pinochet regime concluded that approximately 30,000 Chilean citizens were tortured by the government. The commission also estimated that as many as 30,000 other victims did not come forward. Guzmán commented that the survivors are continually terrorized by the presence of those responsible in the general population, unprosecuted and unpunished for their complicity.
In another exchange with one of the astronomers, the question of searching for the past is raised again. This time, the astronomer observed that his search for the past allows him to rest well at night, while the search for the past carried out by the women of Calama likely does not allow the same peace of mind for them. He asserted that Chilean society is comfortable with his searching, but is not comfortable with the searching of the women, who continue to walk through the Atacama Desert in search of the remains of their loved ones or others’ loved ones—victims of the violence carried out by the government against its own citizens.
In a series of emotional interviews, several women recounted their searches for the remains of their own family members and the discoveries of remains of other victims that they have made. Guzmán referenced a whale skeleton that he saw in a museum as a boy and contrasted its place of honor in the museum with the anonymity of the remains of the victims of government violence that remain unburied and without a monument to honor them. The remainder of the film focused on the efforts of these women and others to search for the remains of victims and to commemorate the lives of those who disappeared.
The film concluded with the idea that memory is the key to being able to live in the present. Those without memory cannot live anywhere.
Questions & Comments:
Daisy Domínguez (City College of New York) asked if women were leading the drive to locate those killed by the Pinochet regime and bring people to justice because so many men had been killed. Gutiérrez responded that many Chilean men had been involved in those efforts as well, but the women whose male relatives had been disappeared had really taken the lead publicly.
Paloma Celis Carbajal (University of Wisconsin, Madison) asked how Cinema Tropical works with institutions of higher education on the specifics of screenings (such as logistics, funding, and speaker arrangements). Gutiérrez answered that the specifics are done on a case-by-case basis. He mentioned that the French government has a well-established system for offering reduced prices for films to universities to encourage them to organize film packages for tours. He said that Cinema Tropical is looking for ways to work more with librarians and other university organizations for screenings. Celis Carbajal responded that for many libraries, buying the institutional copy is seen as the best way to facilitate this kind of thing because costs beyond that (such as honorariums for speakers) become an issue due to limited library budgets. Gutiérrez suggested that filmmakers and university officials could work together to alleviate some of those issues, such as creating touring circuits where groups of universities collaborated, as well as bringing in local foreign consulates to help with certain aspects of the planning and expenses.
Panel 19, July 27, 2010, 9:00 am-10:30 am
Moderator: David S. Nolen, Mississippi State University
Presenter: Christopher Moore (Film Maker)
Rapporteur: Sarah A. Buck Kachaluba, Florida State University
This session was a screening of the film Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas. The filmmaker was present and available for additional conversation and questions after the screening, but the screening took up all the time allotted. This film was a sequel to an earlier film, done in 2006, when Moore and two fellow undergraduate students at Trinity College went to Venezuela to interview people with different perspectives on Hugo Chávez. At this time, the country was quite polarized. Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas, filmed in 2010, brought the three back to the same five regions, to reconnect with the same people.
Moving Pictures o Los Autos de Caracas, a title which refers to modes of transportation (and the importance of oil in Venezuela’s history, contemporary society and political-economy) as well as the process of self-identity construction, provides a fascinating look at Venezuela’s recent political and social history. The film’s inclusion of very different viewpoints (provided through interviews and accompanying film footage), culminated in a remarkably balanced perspective.
Those interviewed included individuals at Chávez’s campaign headquarters as well as people representing opposition parties; residents of an Amazonian village, an urban barrio constructed on a hill, and a town on the shores of Lake Maracaibo, that has sunk because of all the holes poked in the lake to extract oil. Each case provided unique insight into the inner-workings of Venezuela’s political-economy and society. For example, the government’s efforts to build a retaining wall and then build houses in a different location to remedy the dislocation of those living in the Maracaibo community were limited because out of 400 homes, only 8 people from the original community were living there. Other homes had been invaded by people with connections to the contractors who built them. Others questioned Chávez’s so-called “Socialist” orientation, arguing that if anything, people are becoming increasingly selfish and privatization is on the rise. For example, one member of another community explained that people used to share all of their food but this was no longer the case. Such personal testimonies were supplemented by interviews with Venezuelan and North American academics who explained, among other things, that Chávez’s administration made top-down decisions intended to serve the interests of the poor, but allowing for all to have a voice in the process was not a priority. In short, this was a compelling and fascinating look at contemporary Venezuela.
Panel 4, May 30 2011, 2:00 pm-3:30 pm
Moderator: Rhonda Neugebauer, University of California, Riverside
Presenter: Shamina de Gonzaga, what moves you?
Rapporteur: Ellen Jaramillo, Yale University
Indocumentales/Undocumentaries (http://indocumentales.com/) is an itinerant film and dialogue series on immigration and related issues. This U.S./Mexico Interdependent Film Series was founded by three organizations located in New York City: what moves you?, Cinema Tropical and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at New York University. “Academics, journalists, policy makers, migrants, artists, activists, students, film makers, librarians and the general public gather to discuss the topics raised by each documentary film. Each event is ‘done in’ collaboration with partner organizations and venues that involve their local communities in the dialogue. Indocumentales provides educational resources and an interactive network so that people have an opportunity to engage, come away more informed on the issues and have an impact”. [From their website]
Shamina de Gonzaga: When we present these films we usually compile a panel of discussants who can speak to the issues highlighted in the film. We actually inaugurated the film series with this film. This film is a lot about music and a lot about drugs, so we had at the time the head of the Drug Policy Alliance who gave his perspective on drug policy, we had Mexican musicians who play in the subways [for donations] in New York, who gave their perspectives on earning their livings in the U.S. in that way, and we had representatives of the Mexican Cultural Institute, a part of the Mexican government, who can only say so much because of who they are. This is a particularly enjoyable film to watch; the music makes the subject not quite as heavy, but rich in content. Maybe Carlos [Gutiérrez, of Cinema Tropical] can give some more background.
Carlos Gutiérrez: This is the first film by Natalia Almada, who has made three films to date and is representative of the new generation of Latin American documentary film makers. The film premiered in 2005 at the Tribeca Film Festival. I think this is an important film on the subject of illegal immigrants because most other films treat immigrants as victims, and when you victimize the subjects of a film you treat the audience as superiors, and there is no one-to-one connection to the story. What Natalia does here is engage with the personal stories of what forced people to migrate. Natalia was one of the first ones to bring the issue of drug trafficking to immigration issues. Another thing I admire is that she puts immigration within a larger cultural context, in this case with narcocorridos, and that presents a richer panorama of all the issues involved.
Questions & Comments:
Adán Griego (Stanford University): Is this film available for purchase?
Gutiérrez: Yes! And if you buy it through Indocumentales, we provide an educational resource package.
de Gonzaga: A lot of this filmmaker’s work is done at personal risk. You don’t just get in the middle of a group of narco-traffickers and start filming them, but she does. Do you all see a lot of interest with the students or the faculty in your institutions in these issues? Part of it is finding the demand, what’s available on these issues in the mainstream media is pretty limited. That you all are working with people who want to find out more about this has a tremendous richness.
Rhonda Neugebauer: Yes, they come to us. The films really reach people, so much differently.
Griego: Audio-visuals are a very good supplement to any course reader because you can only read so much. We receive multiple-entity generations where probably the written word is not their primary medium of experiences.
Neugebauer: Do you have any connection with the Chiapas Media Project?
Gutiérrez: I know her work for many years. The problem is to find the channels to make it to the United States. What happens is that film makers are placed in the role of also being educators. In many instances they don’t give much information about the context and people become uncomfortable because they don’t know the elements, and so that work gets placed on the film maker. That may be why a lot of films don’t get distributed, because they ask the film maker to contextualize the work. A typical question posed during film festivals is “What was your target audience?”, as if to say they were not engaged with your films so they weren’t meant for them.
de Gonzaga: Sometimes I think these films are more relevant for the people who don’t know. For example, with the [Almada’s second] film “Los Que Se Quedan,” the directors were traveling it around Mexico to different communities, basically showing people a reflection of their own stories. People had mixed reactions and they didn’t have the contexts, but they need to be seeing these films because it brings the questions to the surface. How do we get people to care, to feel connected? If people can feel a personal relationship to the issues that opens up a whole other avenue for greater interest that goes beyond the films.
Gutiérrez: Another thing about these films, last week the state of Sinaloa actually banned playing narcocorridos because they glorify drug trafficking.
de Gonzaga: I’m sure that will be really effective…
Gutiérrez: But then again they show something like “La Reina del Sur” [a telenovela that depicts a Sinaloan woman who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in southern Spain] so there is a whole divide in the culture along what glorifies and what does not.
[Film plays] “AL OTRO LADO” (Natalia Almada, US/Mexico, 2005, 66 min. In Spanish with English subtitles) tells the human story behind illegal immigration and drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico through the eyes of Magdiel, a 23-year-old fisherman and aspiring composer who dreams of a better life. Due to lack of work and low fishing yields, many cross over, and like many in Sinaloa, the drug capital of Mexico, Magdiel faces two choices to better his life: trafficking drugs or crossing the border into the United States. For people south of the border, the “other side” is the dream of an impossibly rich United States, where even menial jobs can support families and whole communities that have been left behind. For people north of the border, “AL OTRO LADO” sheds light on the harsh choices that their neighbors to the south often face because of economic crisis.
Magdiel, however, has a special talent that could be his ticket out: composing corridos – songs about the narcotics underworld and undocumented immigrant life. For over 200 years, corridos have been Mexico’s musical underground newspaper and the voice of those rarely heard outside their communities. From Sinaloa to the streets of East Los Angeles, this film explores the world of drug smuggling, immigration and the corrido music that chronicles it all. If you really want to understand what is happening on the US/Mexico border, listen to the corridos, ballads that have become the voice of people whose views are rarely heard in mainstream media.
Questions & Comments:
Nancy Hallock (Harvard University): What happened to him [Magdiel, the protagonist]?
Gutiérrez: The film maker made a point of leaving it completely open. It’s the story of many people. Actually he made it to the U.S., but not on this trip. He got caught in a sweep, tried several other times, and eventually made it. The last time I heard from him, he was working in Las Vegas.
Claire-Lise Bénaud (University of New Mexico): Has it been shown in Mexico, and what was its reception?
Gutiérrez: Yes, it’s been shown in Mexico, in film festivals, and tours of documentaries. Migration is a rarely-discussed topic in Mexico City, for example. The debate is sort of creepy sometimes.
de Gonzaga: It goes across class lines to such an extent. I was with a colleague in New York, interviewing Mexicans of all different backgrounds and we had a question from one girl asking is it international cooperation when Mexican and American coyotes work together to get people across the border? You have U.S. citizens who do that kind of work, too. I was in a hotel in Mexico and none of the upper-middle class people I was working with were interested in this, but the woman cleaning the hotel room asked about it, because she, like many others, had an ex-husband who left her and stayed in the U. S. and another husband who went and wanted her to come. It’s such a common story for so many people, and yet for the segment of the population that can go to the U.S. whenever they want, it’s a hard conversation to have. One of our goals with this series is to take these discussions and have them over there, and try to create a space where people who are coming from very different places engage with each other. One of the things I love in this movie is the notion that appears in several songs, about “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me,” and that’s something from a U.S. perspective that a lot of people take for granted that the borders are what they are, but that maybe for people who have been living in border areas for hundreds of years, that’s not so obvious. What you all are doing in terms of historical archiving and providing people with a broader spectrum to consider situations through is really important for all of us.
Patricia Figueroa (Brown University): Have these films been shown in the border areas?
Gutiérrez: We’re in the process of taking the whole series, the five films, to Arizona in the fall. We’ve screened one of them: “Los Que Se Quedan” in Tucson in March, and people reacted pretty well. Actually, Tucson is a fairly liberal town; we want to take it to Phoenix.
Figueroa: Have you heard perspectives from people who are very much against it [illegal immigration]?
Gutiérrez: Yes. We’re expecting more when we take it to Phoenix.
de Gonzaga: My feeling is that we sometimes have people in the audience who are not very sympathetic to the situation of migrants but who don’t share their perspective. Most of the people who come to these screenings are more sympathetic to the issue, so it creates a dynamic where people who don’t share these views will not necessarily express themselves. Part of the goal is to create a space where people with very different opinions can come together and feel safe enough to express their opinions in a respectful manner. It’s so easy just to stick with one’s own view, but the human aspect opens a doorway and it’s a conversation that has to happen, and that regular people have to be a part of.
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