Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Standing Guard

. . . I was struck that [El Velador] was a mirror of the violence
and the socioeconomic realities in which such violence flourishes.
~ Natalia Almada, Interview, BOMB Magazine*

The cemetery of El Velador — "The Night Watchman" — in Culiacan, capital of Mexico's northern state of Sinaloa, is the final resting place of some of the country's most notorious drug lords. The graves of the dead, many opulent beyond belief, their number increasing with the still-climbing number of deaths from the ongoing drug war in the country, are the subject of director Natalia Almada's extraordinary and important documentary El Velador (Altamura Films, 2011), the trailer for which is embedded below. In the approximately 60-minute film, Alamada, whose own family is from Sinaloa, accompanies a guard named Martin on his nightly rounds to watch over the grandiose mausoleums, documents construction and care of elaborate tombs, and shows us how "ordinary existence persists [amid violence]. . . and quietly defies the dead."

This excerpt from this thought-provoking film (other clips may be viewed here) shows workers constructing some of the elaborate crypts (equipped with heat, electricity, and running water):

It is estimated that more than 60,000 lives have been lost since 2006, when Mexico's former president Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels. (Search Google using the simple phrase "Mexico drug war" and more than 39 million hits will be returned, a telling statistic on this entrenched armed conflict between rival cartels killing each other and the Mexican government forces tasked to eliminate them.) The violence has continued since the 2012 election of Enrique Pena Nieto. Crushing the illegal drug trade has profound implications for the United States to which most of the drugs flow. 

El Velador on FaceBook

The documentary, which had its premiere in June 2012 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, was broadcast nationally for the first time in September and has been screened widely, is available through Icarus Films

Almada is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a 2010 USA Artist,  a 2011 Alpert Award recipient, and a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. In 2009 she was awarded the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award. Her other films include The Other SideEl General, and All Water Has Perfect Memory.

* Read Almada's enlightening 2011 interview with BOMB Magazine here. Noteworthy is her statement, "The imagination can sometimes be more powerful than a photograph. To suggest and to evoke rather than to illustrate is a way to engage and commit the viewer." Her film does not depict violence, a decision she explains beautifully: "If we reduce the idea of violence to the horrific acts that we see in the press, then we fail to understand the deeper systematic violence. All we see is the atrocity. We no longer see the humanity of the victim or the perpetrator, nor the violence that is inflicted on the community that lives within this context. . . ."

Natalia Almada's TED San Miguel Talk


Louise Gallagher said...

I think it is an act of courage to have made this film.

I also think we focus on the drug wars so we can appear to be 'doing something' as opposed to figuring out why some many people are being lost to drug addiction... but that's another issue.

I will watch for this doc in theatres.

Peggy Rosenthal said...

Thank you for highlighting this heart-breaking reality in Mexico: the terrible rule of the drug cartels. George and I spent the past three winters in Arizona, near the Mexican border. The first year, we'd walk across the border and stroll through the border towns comfortably. Then it got too dangerous to go. We had the luxury of staying on our side of the border; but the Mexican people are trapped there in this desperate situation.