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Niños de la calle and other documentaries of 2003

Rafael Aviña

Translator, Andrea Cabrera

In 2003, from October the 3rd to the 10th, a new film festival that immediately reached a remarkable attention of the film industry was held in the beautiful city of Morelia. A festival that became the main meeting point of promotion and exhibition of the newest and most innovative national cinema. A sort of film laboratory that would make room for all kinds of voices and stories that would transform the way of filming in Mexico, as well as the way of watching cinema. It attracted an audience of all ages and, in particular, a new generation of young people willing to propose exciting and reflective themes about their own daily lives and their globalized country.

The first edition of the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM, by its acronym in Spanish) opened with apparently simple and less spectacular expectations than other established events. The curious thing is that since its first experience, it acquired not only a reputation, but a surprising maturity. It has focused its energy on central areas between commercial prestige and unusual experimentation, such as the projection of international cinema. In the first year, that included the presence of iconic figures such as: Barbet Schroeder, Werner Herzog, or Fernando Vallejo.

Above all, the instant success of the Morelia Festival lay in its interest around a Mexican cinema generally unappreciated, with a permanent experimental vocation and great inspiration. Short films, documentaries, as well as regional cinema (short films from Michoacán) are part of that cinema. It's, thus, an important forum for incipient filmmakers and enthusiastic young people. That was accomplished with the support of the State of Michoacán, its governor at the time: Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, and the creators and founders of the event: Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel and Daniela Michel, the general director. They have always been surrounded by an efficient team of collaborators.

By 2003, it was evident that short films and, above all, documentary films were acquiring great importance against the failure, dispersion and disparity of the fiction films at that time. Documentaries were the most risky, assertive, experimental and independent proposals in the outlook of national cinema at the time, as shown by the first winner of the festival: the documentary Niños de la calle (2002), by Eva Aridjis. It was made with interviews to more than 50 children that took more than 60 hours of filming between September and December in 2001. It ended up being reduced to 82 minutes and its purpose was to go deep into the origins and consequences of a problem that our country has been facing since the presidency of Miguel Alemán, as shown in Luis Buñuel's Los olvidados (1950).

The jury, made up of Juan Carlos Rulfo,  Ilse Hughan and Arthur Dong, awarded first place to the debutant director Eva Aridjis (Holland, 1974). She captured the harsh reality in the streets of Mexico City, particularly in the areas of Plaza de la Solidaridad, Alameda Central and San Cosme. In a country where around 20,000 children and adolescents, most of them infected with AIDS, live and spend the night on the streets. The film focuses on the terrible existence of four minors: Marcos, Erika, Antonio, nicknamed El Rata, and Juan. They wander the streets, sleep outdoors, take drugs, eat badly and sometimes visit their families. They try to survive in the insecure and icy metropolitan area, amid legal loopholes, police abuses, and social and family rejection.

Niños de la calle avoids shame and melodrama, and looks with solidarity at its protagonists. Four characters who have grown up without love, full of pain, rejection and injustice: 11-year-old Marcos is addicted to glue. His mother, a young girl, says to the camera: "I don't know how to raise children, it's so difficult." Erika, 18, recalls that she was harassed by five policemen and two other men, her soul is filled with resentment and she looks like an older woman. El Rata, the 12-year-old, inhales cement and talks about the hallucinations that give him moments of peace. Finally, Juan (15), who is missing a leg, has a tumor in his lungs. At the end, the credits mention that Juan died of cancer. Aridjis' documentary was an experience as moving as it was brutal...

...In that same first Morelia festival, a couple of special mentions were awarded to Gabriel Orozco (2002), by Juan Carlos Martín, about the daily work of the celebrated plastic artist, and to La canción del pulque (2002), by Everardo González, a sincere and amusing approach to the culture of the tlachique, set in a popular pulquería "La Pirata". And the award for Best Medium-length Documentary was for XV en Zaachila  (2003), by Rigoberto Perezcano, about a 15th birthday party in a municipality of Oaxaca approached with respect and originality.