To return to documentary filmmaking after her lauded debut fiction feature “Prayers for the Stolen” (“Noche de Fuego”), Tatiana Huezo laid down a set of parameters to follow.
“I didn’t want to include any interviews, any narration or any voice-over,” she told Variety. “The Echo” (“El Eco”), world premiering at Berlinale’s Encounters sidebar, sometimes feels like a fictional story as a result.
“After ‘Prayers..,’ I felt like returning to the language of the documentary, but most importantly, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, in the smallest details in everyday life,” she mused. Its trailer bows exclusively in Variety.
Research on the docu took some four years. The Mexican-Salvadoran filmmaker found the titular village of El Eco in the state of Puebla, a four-hour drive from Mexico City. After visiting several rural schools, she zeroed in on the village, captivated by its name and even more so after visiting it and meeting its small, tight community. Together with her regular cinematographer Ernesto Pardo, her life partner, they filmed for some 18 months, staying for two, three weeks with each visit during different seasons.
As in “Prayers for the Stolen,” “The Echo” focuses on children living in the countryside. In “The Echo,” the children help out with the care of the sheep, the harvest and their elders from an early age. The dry cold mountain air and intense sunlight has weathered their skin prematurely and their early responsibilities make them grow up too fast, Huezo observed.
At a rural school, which consists of one classroom with ages ranging from 4 to 11, they are also trained to teach each other, with the supervision of an adult teacher. “No one could really tell me why the village was called El Eco. When I asked if there was any place where an echo could be heard, some told me, as if sharing a forbidden secret: ‘sometimes the stones speak to us…, the wind carries our voices from the hills, that’s why they say you should watch what you say…,’” Huezo recalled.
“The Echo,” aside from being the docu’s title, is a metaphor that refers to the way of life in this remote rural community with its deep ancestral knowledge and vanishing language.
Moreover, “this story speaks of the echo that parents leave in their children, of that voice that clings to the soul during the formative years and remains forever. Children learn how to understand death, illness and love with each act, word and silence of their parents,” said Huezo.
“I’ve always been fascinated by childhood. It’s a time of intense discovery when we believe everything… in love and in friendship; you can hug a tree and feel profound solace from this embrace,” she noted, adding: “I miss this state of purity and innocence, which is sadly, fleeting.”
Huezo also wants to draw attention to the profound inequities in rural Mexico where the loss of one harvest means the loss of income. More droughts, brought on by climate change, have impacted their lives at a more frequent rate, with forced migrations also another sad result. There is no insurance, private or state, that protects them from these natural disasters, she said. Their way of life is also threatened by illegal logging.
Huezo and Pardo, along with sound designer Lena Esquenazi and sound editor Martin de Torcy, crafted what Huezo feels is their most visually and aurally stunning work to date. Original music is by two of Latin America’s leading composers, Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, who worked on Huezo’s “Tempestad” and “Prayers for the Stolen,” respectively.
She’s now working on her second fiction feature, but details are still under wraps. All she can reveal is that she’s halfway through her research and it has a teen character this time.
“The Echo” is produced by Radiola Films, founded by Huezo, Pardo and Lena Esquenazi. Co-producer The Match Factory handles international sales.