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Migration, enforced disappearances, memory and oblivion in three documentaries

Rafael Aviña

Translator, Andrea Cabrera

It is no secret that Mexican documentary cinema is currently experiencing its best moment and that's been growing since the start of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM, by its acronym in Spanish), whose first edition in 2003 captured the essence of what was moving with greater thrust and energy within our cinematography: the permanent vocation of challenge, condemnation, risk and sorority that the documentary film genre has. Therefore, it is no coincidence that this genre has become more and more common on the commercial billboard. In the next few days, three documentary films that have been successfully screened in previous editions of FICM are premiering.

Mi casa está en otra parte/ Home is Somewhere Else (2022), by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos, it is a curious, sensitive and atypical animated documentary that follows three true stories narrated by their own protagonists and illustrated with animated vignettes. These vignettes are close to the style of Dominique Jonard, the late French filmmaker who lived in Mexico, in his animated shorts such as: Desde adentro (1996),  ¡Santo golpe! (1997) and La De Génesis (1998). In the last one, the demon character speaks some sort of Pachuco-English, that voice is similar to the one of the main narrator in Hagerman and Villalobos' film: a kind of hip-hop poet nicknamed Deportee (José Eduardo Aguilar), who is a remembrance of the Pachuco character played by Edward James Olmos in Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit/Fiebre latina (1981).

The documentary follows three endearing stories: the story of Jasmine, an 11-year-old girl born in the United States to undocumented parents, who travels to Washington to appeal for her rights. The story of two sisters, Elizabeth and Evelyn, separated by their immigration status. One is American and lives in Yucatan with her grandmother, the other is in California without documentation. And finally, the story of Deportee (Lalo), a Mexican who grew up in Utah and is deported to his country at the age of 23. From his unknown nation, and through his texts, he became an activist and defender of migrants who have been sent back to their homeland. Three bittersweet and thought-provoking stories of feelings and emotions.

Volverte a ver (2020), by Carolina Corral and Magali Rocha, is another work of enormous perception and empathy that focuses on three women in the state of Morelos, Tranquilina, Angélica and Edith. Tired of simply waiting a long time in the face of the indifference, helplessness and bureaucracy of justice in our country at the moment, they are dedicated to tracking down the bodies of their missing relatives whose search has been shelved by the authorities. With the help of forensic experts, and due to the circumstances, they participate in the exhumation of more than 200 corpses that the district attorney's office of Morelos buried in secret.

With the help of the groups Regresando a casa Morelos and Familias resilientes Morelos, alongside the young filmmakers Corral and Rocha, the three women, whose lives became an absolute nightmare from one day to another, are discovering the shameful corruption network, complicity and ineptitude of the authorities of previous and current administrations in the fate of their relatives and in the clumsy search and follow-up of their cases. Volverte a ver is a sensitive social complaint, is a sisterhood among women, is a work filmed with a great strength.

Finally, David Castañón's No son horas de olvidar (2020), to be released next week, is another emotional documentary that questions memory, oblivion, old age and political awareness in the story of Jorge, an elderly man who fears that Juanita, his wife, will soon fail to recognize him. Some time ago, due to the military dictatorship in Chile, Juana lost her memory and recovered it. Today, an outbreak of Alzheimer's disease places her in the same circumstance. Therefore, Jorge sinks into music, images and writings to rescue his companion who's at risk to be lost in the limbo of oblivion.

Castañón himself is the narrator-interviewer in this beautiful and sad journey through memory, couple love and social activism as a symbol of identity. It is an intimate and, at the same time, political story with a remarkable archive material of the main characters, filmed and edited with efficiency.