Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Natalia Almada: Visiting Watkins Filmmaker Peers Inside the Mexican Drug Wars

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 6:48 AM

Next week, the Watkins College of Art, Design and Film is hosting a visit by Natalia Almada, the acclaimed documentarian who alternates examinations of her Mexican heritage and mixed background with films that address the drug wars that have wracked Mexico for the past six years. The latter got Almada a write-up in Sunday's New York Times, as part of an article on ways Mexican cinema is starting to acknowledge the drug wars — specifically in one of the new year's most anticipated films, Gerardo Naranjo's thriller Miss Bala.

The article singled out Almada's latest film, El Velador (screening Jan. 26 at Watkins with the director attending), as an example of how documentarians are finding "oblique" angles on the violence that has claimed an estimated 50,000 people (and counting) since 2006:

Natalia Almada spent a year in the Jardines del Humaya cemetery in Culiacán, in the heart of Mexican drug country, where the families of slain traffickers erect air-conditioned mausoleums to their fallen men. Her resulting film, “El Velador” (“The Night Watchman”), is a meditation on what the violence has wrought without showing any of it. Loosely centered around Martín, the cemetery’s night watchman, the film unfolds fuguelike as the days repeat themselves, the camera lingering on the cracked shoes of a construction worker mixing concrete and a snack vendor peeling a mango for a little girl at a funeral.

“I always felt that there was this absurdity, this futility to the whole place,” Ms. Almada said. “That’s very much what we’re living through, this violence where you think it can’t get worse and it gets worse; it can’t get more grotesque, and it gets more grotesque.” (“El Velador” will be broadcast this year on the PBS series “POV.”)

In advance of Almada's visit next week, Watkins is screening two more films by the director: her 2009 film El General (6 p.m. Jan. 23, Watkins Theater), which examines the tangled legacy of her great-grandfather, the late general and Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calles; and her 2005 feature debut, Al Otro Lado aka To the Other Side (6 p.m. Jan. 25, Room 804), which follows a budding composer of corridos (the hugely popular genre of topical pop-folk ballads that concern everything from drug smuggling to working life) as he weighs joining the drug trade or escaping to America. Watch Country Life and next week's Scene for more information.

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