Since 2007, the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) has organized an annual Indigenous People Forum in the Michoacán capital during the fest. This year, for the first time, it dedicated two days the Mexican Indigenous Women Filmmakers: Identity and New Narratives forum.
Daniela Michel, general director of the festival; Marina Stavenhagen, forum coordinator; and María Novaro, director of the Mexican Institute of Cinematography (Imcine) hosted the two-day event which included seven hours of debate and discussion, as well as ten screenings – six shorts and four features, including two features in competition, “Tio Yim” and “Tote/Abuelo.”
First-day speakers included Magda Cacari of the Purépecha community; Mixtec filmmakers Ángeles Cruz and Dinazar Urbina Mata; Totzil director Dolores Sántiz Gómez; Amalia Córdova, curator of digital and emerging media at the Center of Popular Arts and Cultural Heritage of the Smithsonian Institute; and María Candelaria Palma of the Afro-Indigenous community of San Antonio in Guerrero, whose documentary feature film, “Rojo,” is part of this edition’s Official Selection.
The panel was moderated by María Inés Roque, director of the Ambulante Más Allá documentary training program.
Day-two speakers took in Zapotecs Ingrid Eunice Fabián and Luna Marán (“Tio Yim,” in competition); Yolanda Cruz from the Chatino community; Iris Belén Villalpando, of the Yoreme de Ahome; activist Zenaida Pérez, originally from the Ayuujk (Mixe) community of Tlahuitoltepec, and María Sojob, the Tzotzil filmmaker behind another competition feature in “Tote/Abuelo.” It was led by documentarist, curator and researcher, Christiane Burkhard.
Here, Variety presents just ten of the many key points raised and discussed over the forum’s two days. The forums are available to stream on the festival’s YouTube page in Spanish.
Racism permeates the lives of indigenous filmmakers, and each woman on the panel had a story of how it had affected her work.
Angeles Cruz recalled that when she was younger, “I would be stopped on the bus and forced to sing the Mexican national anthem.” She said the experience was dehumanizing and undermined her confidence as a woman and as an indigenous person.
“The indigenous woman is represented as uneducated and destined to do a specific job in films. Forget about us as directors,” she added, emphasizing the difficulties indigenous women face trying to get into the industry.
2 A multi-level discourse.
Facing more than just racism from the outside, indigenous women are often discriminated against from within their own communities.
“One difficulty in the community is machismo,” explained Sántiz Gómez. “It’s hard for a woman to pick up a camera and make films. I try to show young girls they can do anything that men can do.”
“Many families have not had access to broad education and don’t understand a woman can learn the same competencies that previously only men had access to,” pointed out Cacari.
3 Breaking from traditional, hetero-normative destinies assigned to indigenous women
For many of the speakers, the arts, and particularly filmmaking, were a means of escaping paths that women of their communities are expected to adhere to.
Dolores Sánchez explained a desire to be “different from the other girls. I didn’t want to get married so young. I want to see what opportunity there was beyond that world.”
“We’re speaking of extremely sexist communities,” Angeles Cruz said, explaining the added difficulty of being a non-hetero woman in a traditional indigenous community.
“They don’t consider the possibility that two women can love each other,” she continued. “Even if I am married and I introduce my wife, they don’t believe it’s possible.”
Worse still, “They believe women don’t have sexuality. So many think an indigenous woman’s role in a relationship is just to have children.”
4 Indigenous cinema from within the indigenous community
Angeles Cruz said it most concisely, but it was a theme repeated again and again over the forum’s two days.
“For me, cinema has been the ability to tell my own stories and build a dialogue with my community and from my community.”
Cacari considers it her responsibility to “represent ourselves as best we can from within the community.”
“We don’t have big productions, we don’t have expensive cameras, but we offer an internal view,” said Sánchez.
5 A tool for protecting language
For several speakers, the drive into cinema came as a means of protecting the languages of their communities which are no longer widely used, and often omitted from films meant to represent the communities.
Urbina recalled, “My interest in film is to use it to rescue the Mixtec language. We didn’t learn it in our home to protect future generations from discrimination.”
Belén Villalpando recognized the same in her community of Yoreme de Ahome. “Most young people cannot speak the language. Only grandparents still do,” she said.
When questions of genre were raised, none of the filmmakers expressed any desire to work within a Hollywood-based cinema system. The women present wanted to use narrative formats recognizable in the traditional storytelling of their communities.
“I just decided to forget about genre,” explained Urbina Mata. “I just thought about my story and what it would take for it to be understood.”
In Angeles Cruz’s upcoming feature “Nudo Mixteco,” she tells overlapping stories that each take place on the same day, which only becomes obvious about halfway through the film when the same scenes are seen again through different perspectives – a circularity which cruz attributed to her indigenous worldview, not a break with Hollywood storytelling.
7 There is no one “indigenous”
Early on, Inés Roque made clear that “We propose there is not a single indigenous identity, and that the best way of demonstrating that is through representation.”
“The media promotes a single way of being,” said Zenaia Pérez. “Through my activism I seek to promote the beautiful diversity that exists here.”
8 A building movement, and quite recent
Each of the ten films screened at this year’s FICM from indigenous women filmmakers was made in the last decade. Before that there is a devastatingly devoid tradition of indigenous women’s cinema.
Nine of the ten films were filmed in the last three years, including all four features. The fact that it took so long to get here is discouraging but the build, especially in the last two years, is inspiring.
Many of the speakers have recently finished or are working on their first features. Angeles Cruz’s “Nudo Mixteco” screened in a near-finished version at Spain’s San Sebastian Festival in Sept. Cacari is nearly finished with a script and is currently fundraising, Sántiz Gómez has a film in post-production. None of them expressed any intention of slowing down.
10 Exhibition, when and how indigenous films are screened
One of the greatest practical difficulties facing indigenous filmmakers is exposure.
“In my community there are no theaters,” lamented Palma Marcelino, “so we make efforts to bring films to the communities where there is no cinema.”
“My work has been seen thanks to festivals and museums, but in my community, I’ve not shared it with the public,” sympathized Urbina Mata, noting that she has screened her films to cast and crew via her laptop.
There is hope, however, that events like this week’s forum can inspire greater recognition and acceptance of this emerging group of artists.
Pablo Sandoval and John Hopewell contributed to this article.