Filmmaker Monica Wise speaks about the making of her Mexican indigenous resistance documentary
Our most recent Guardian documentary tells the story of Lupita, a brave young Mayan Tzotzil woman at the forefront of the indigenous Mexican movement. She has become a spokeswoman for her community and a new generation of Mayan activists more than twenty years after Lupita lost her family in the Acteal massacre in southern Mexico.
In her high-risk attempts to re-educate and bring justice to the world, she balances the demands of motherhood. Monica Wise, a filmmaker, talks to us about her experience making the film.
What did this project lead you to?
This historic campaign led by indigenous women has inspired me.
Since I was a child, I have spent time in Latin America, and that has influenced my perception of injustice.
In college, I had heard about the EZLN, but I wanted to know what was behind the Zapatista spectacle, and with her discourse and power, Lupita captivated me.
I instantly realized she could be the one to relay the story of 500 years of indigenous rebellion to a global audience in a contemporary Mexican political sense.
I teamed up with Eduardo ‘Lalo’ Gutiérrez Pérez, a local journalist who leads the communications team at Lupita’s Las Abejas de Acteal organization.
Lalo graciously agreed to cooperate and had video from the tour of Marichuy, as well as from several other recent demonstrations.
With me, Lalo produced and shot the film and translated Tsotsil into Spanish.
What memories do you have of filming with Lupita?
I have spent few weeks since 2017, then months getting to know Lupita and her family in Chiapas. Our first was the most unforgettable shoot: Lupita giving her speech to a wide audience in this Zapatista oventic caracol. When Lupita took the stage with her powerful speech, she started in Tsotsil and continued in Spanish, “My words are true because I lived it, I wasn’t told about it, I was there…. That’s why it’s not hard for me to believe that injustices like this continue all over the world.” For days afterwards, many in the audience talked about her: “What a force,” “She’s the survivor of Acteal”
Your innovative technique is special. How did you find the film’s style and form?
In an amazing two weeks, I went back and forth between a slow and lyrical portrait (like the Mexican documentaries Tempestad, A Morir a los Desiertos, Kings of Nowhere) and a more detailed, faster cut (but still lyrically driven) that was re-edited by Mar Jardiel, my final editor. If you’re a Mexican who recalls the Acteal massacre or a foreign spectator who had never heard of the Zapatistas, the idea was to bring the viewer into Lupita’s world for a few moments.
And we must have kept it short!
From the beginning, I wanted to use the Super 8 movie to make a movie from the point of view of Lupita, so to speak, to understand who the woman, the mother, is behind the spokesperson, the spokesperson of her group. The history still hangs over Acteal, where the group continues to hold monthly ceremonies to mourn the massacre’s 45 victims, or martyrs. Each time I entered the community, I entered a different world, with different timing, in a different language.
So the textured film felt fitting to represent that.
What effect are you hoping the movie will have?
To make Lupita’s voice known, to reach a new and international audience, and to raise awareness of Lupita’s plight and her community, we made the film. There is still no justice for the Acteal Massacre, the attack by paramilitaries that killed 45 people, including her mother and father, in Lupita’s hometown in 1997. Those who ordered the assassinations were not held responsible. Recently, under the pretext of serving justice, the Mexican government provided a group of survivors an amicable solution (solución amistosa) or redress.
Las Abejas de Acteal continues to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a report and will not rest until the courts are provided with justice. They assume that only at the international level will this be achieved.
I know the work on the film won’t be done before it hits the right people, the people who tell the film their own story. That is why donations are received by us.