Mexico: Up Next! – Betzabe Garcia

Set in a deluged Mexican village, ‘Kings of Nowhere’ portrays remarkable human resistance in the face of man-made disaster

Portrait of Mexican documentary filmmaker Betzabe
Courtesy: Betzabe Garcia

MORELIA — A war-zone survival drama told with tact and maturity that has sparked fest and critical plaudits, “Kings of Nowhere” is also the story of disparate reactions to man-made disaster. In 2009, the newly constructed Picachos Dam in Mexico’s Sinaloa state plunged the village of San Marcos and another five villages under water for half the year. Some of the people protesting the disaster have been shot dead.

As people left, a community of 300 families was reduced to three. Helmed by Garcia, who was born in Sinaloa state, “Nowhere” portrays the family members who have stayed: Tortilla makers Pani and Paulita who rebuild the square outside the local church, though it will inundated for much of the year; Jaimito and Yoya, who live day to day; Miro and his parents, who just want to leave.

Fear and animals pervade the place. Gunshots ring out at night. “They killed a young guy just over there. I was standing here giving the cows water. But it’s better not to talk about these things. You never know what could happen,” Jaimito comments at one point. Pani and Paulita were shot at in their car; they survived; village reconstruction is one way of thanks.

As Nick Roddick points out, calling “Kings of Nowhere” “one of the best documentaries of the year,” Garcia delays any bigger picture explanation of political realities until movie’s end. What is left is a portrait of human resistance as fear and animals pervade the film and San Marcos.

Direction – from cinematographer Diego Tenorio’s painterly rural vignettes of mildewed ruins to long traveling, distance shots reducing the characters – adds layered insight to scenes. Few documentaries use sound design. “Nowhere’s,” whose effects were included in the screenplay, captures cacophonous cockerels, lapping lakeside water, the thud of a wooden pole on a boat, tireless bird song, frogs, grasshoppers, pigs runts – immersing the audience in San Marcos, where nature is making a rapid comeback.

“Sound design is essential to transmit the experience of an abandoned village where you hear echoes, external sounds, all the time,” said Garcia.

Garcia shot over five years.” We wanted to show how nature is eating up the village, animals repopulating the village and around,” she added.

Laced with a sense of “magic realism,” Garcia argued, “Kings of Nowhere” won 2015’s South by SouthWest SX: Global Audience Award for best international feature and the Full Frame Documentary Fest Grand Jury Award, as well as the Golden Eye for best documentary at Zurich, a notable trawl for a first feature.

Garcia is now preparing another docu-feature, the transmedia “Hashtag# Mickey,” about a flatmate and cross-dresser from the age of 11, despite attending a Catholic school – and another act of resistance in the machista narco-gang decimated Sinaloa state.