- Reflections on Modernity: The Third Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival and the 21st Guadalajara International Film Festival
The international film festivals in Mexico City and Guadalajara offer distinct approaches to overcoming the vicissitudes of creating, distributing, and exhibiting independent cinema in Mexico. While the well-established Guadalajara festival seeks to develop existing and emerging channels for the production and dissemination of Latin American cinematography, the incipient but ambitious Mexico City event aims to stimulate an environment for the consumption of and intellectual engagement with non-mainstream film, placing a small selection of the region's output within a broadly-defined "world-cinema" context.
Mexico City's documentary selection showed the creativity of Latin American filmmakers financially obliged to forego 35mm production in favor of video and digital technologies. Two films cast sidelong glances at modernity via the enormity of geography and time at the outer reaches of this continent: Soledad en el fin del mundo/ Solitude at the End of the World(Carlos Casas/Fernando Zuber, IT/AR, 2005), an observational study of three absolutely isolated lives in the unforgiving Tierra del Fuego, and the beautiful observational-poetic portrait of a Minas Gerais cave-dweller, A alma do osso/The Soul of the Bone(Cao Guimarães, BR, 2004). Without patronizing or idealizing these primitive, monumental hinterlands, [End Page 120]both films sculpt them as metaphors for their inhabitants' memories and solitude. Almadexterously blends crisp, quotidian digital footage of its gnarled protagonist Dominguinhos with more gradated, abstract super-8 explorations marveling at the infinite shapes of nature. Both films lack narrative intent, for such lives obey no linear drive. Alma's final moments, with the subtlest nod towards cinéma vérité, show Dominguinhos smilingly viewing Guimarães' film, hinting that these images both express and attenuate his circular, hermetic existence.
Also of note was El último confín/The Furthest Boundary(Pablo Ratto, AR, 2005), which contrasts the brute materiality of forensic anthropologists' efforts to excavate and identify the remains of those "disappeared" during Argentina's 1976–1983 military dictatorship with their families' harrowing but human memories and belated mourning. Venezuela Bolivariana(Marcelo Andrade, VE, 2004) engages with the region's long militant documentary tradition, constructing a seductive if flawed macro-narrative from television footage, emotive interviews, and rousing music to celebrate leftwing president Hugo Chávez, even as it warns against the duplicitous fabrications of the country's rightwing media. Subtler critiques of unequal globalization were De nadie/No-One(Tin Dirdamal, MX, 2005) and the scrupulously honest Crossing Arizona(Joseph Mathew/Dan DeVivo, US, 2006), which document through interviews and film reportage the ruthless violence and humane generosity that meet illegal migrants over Mexico's southern ( De nadie) and northern ( Crossing Arizona) borders. Arizona's rigorous analysis of the impact of immigration policy from all sides makes it an invaluable tool for informed debate.
Antonino Isordia's debut feature-length documentary 1973(MX, 2005) is an unsettling portrayal of regret, resignation, and cold recollection that blends searching interviews, home videos, reconstructions, and archive footage through an array of formats, from Hi-8 video to 35mm. Isordia paints a grim triptych of the shattered hopes, dreams, and ambitions of a generation: three characters (all, like Isordia, born in 1973) driven variously to the violent pursuit of power, self-destruction, and matricide. Each story attains a certain tragic universality, but these are far from exemplary tales: the entangled confessional interviews, filmed from unnatural angles in a grainy, overexposed black-and-white reflect the murky nature of memory, suggesting self-justification more than rounded analyses of the past. Ultimately, 1973offers not catharsis but the disconcerting possibility that these most human of characters commit acts of extreme violence and self-destruction.
No film's skeptical take on human progress boasted more insight and humanity than Best Documentary winner Workingman's Death(Michael Glawogger, AT/DE, 2005). The intimacy Glawogger obtains with his protagonists reveals the pride, desperation or unbridled [End Page 121]optimism that drives five groups of people worldwide to labor in the most abject circumstances imaginable. In one...