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.