Bering: Balance and Resistance – Ambulante at USC day #2

Bering: Balance and Resistance is the first documentary feature directed by the Mexican photographer and video artist Lourdes Grobet. Its theme is the life of the Inuit at the american side of the Bering strait.

Filled with powerful images that reflect the sensitivity of its director, Bering is specially competent on bringing its public closer to its subjects. There is beauty in the ice covered landscapes of the Arctic, but there are also challenges.

bering poster

Watching Bering brings another documentary about the Inuit of the Arctic to mind: Nanook of the north. Filmed in 1922 by Robert J. Flaherty, it centers in the life of Nanook, an Inuit man from the Canadian Arctic and his family. Nanook was one of the first documentaries ever made, and its genre is still questioned to this day due to the fact that a couple of its scenes were staged. Still, it was an important documentation on how the Inuit lived 90 years ago, with no electricity, wearing clothes made of animal fur and surviving with subsistence hunting. The Inuit of Bering at the present day have electricity and heaters, wear clothes made at factories and buy coca-cola at their local grocery store. They still hunt, but now they have guns and motor boats. Their greatest struggles are not how to get food or stay warm, but how to preserve their culture while still finding their place in the modern world.

Two scenes on both Bering and Nanook can be paralleled. In the first, two men come back from a hunting trip to the ocean where they caught a walrus. Those who are near come to help bring the animal to the shore, a task that requires strength and coordination. Once they achieve their goal, the director makes a cut, and in the next scene we see the snow tinted red by the walrus’ blood. In Nanook, we see the capture of an immense seal, one that requires about as many men to retrieve as the walrus of Bering. However, in Nanook the director does not spare its public of the most crude and real moments of the Inuit life and shows the skinning of the animal, an image that, even in black-and-white and lower definition, is still gut turning.

While Flaherty patronizes his subjects, Grobet values them and give them their space to be true to who they are. The contact of the white men with the Inuit began about about a century ago, and it’s interesting to see it that generated, especially at Bering, a place that was once dominated by the Russians and later bought by the Americans with no consultation whatsoever of the desire of its native population. In the movie, a lot of them express the sense of being disregarded and carried by the flow.

Bering it’s a beautiful and touching documentary in itself, but knowing how the Inuit have been portrayed by other directors in the past gives the public a sense of perspective that can only foster their understanding of the matter.

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Mexican immigration – A peek at Ambulante Festival

It’s been a while since I went to a film festival for the last time. I almost forgot how it feels like. The not-so-modern theaters, the crowd of mostly film students, professors and hippies. The general predisposition to like everything that comes up on screen is a mood quite characteristic in festivals, you can feel it in the very air around you, in the way people gasp and laugh and applaud at the movie on screen.

Ambulante Festival had that feeling in the air tonight at its USC screening. I caught Ambulante in its second half – the Festival premiered at September 21st – and don’t have to say much about it other than it is a sort of unpretentious hipster (a rare thing to come across these days), indie, bilingual, documentary festival from Mexico that it’s now crossing the border to California. The idea of Ambulante is to be an itinerant festival, each day – or couple of days – its screenings and panels move to a different location of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Last night’s screening at the USC School of Cinematic Arts brought two movies which theme is human migration to and from Mexico. Ambulate’s Mexican origin’s wouldn’t let it shy away from this theme.

ambulante

From Poland to Santa Rosa

From Poland to Santa Rosa, a 10 minutes documentary short, has as main characters two polish ladies who immigrated to Mexico in 1943, establishing their families in Santa Rosa, an area specially dedicated for the polish immigrates in the city of Leon, Guanajuato.

The movie opens with a beautiful but unsettling image of a shrouded body sinking in the water as a female voice tells the story of one of her earliest memories from childhood: the bodies of those who died in the journey from Poland to Mexico and had the sea as their burial site. It is a strong image attached to a strong memory. The ladies go on from there, talking about their memories of arriving at the train station, growing up and building their lives.

Despite the visible care with the image, some framings don’t work as well as the crew evidently intended them to. They are beautiful, but distract the viewer from the story. It is a documentary short, but still the ten minutes seem to leave out a lot of important information. Who are those ladies to each other? Relatives, friends? They waste a precious opportunity to truly engage the public.

To the other side

To the other side is a feature documentary that establishes a relationship between the Mexican popular music style of the corridos and the Mexicans that are intimately connected to the music, their daily struggles and their dreams of a better future, their relationship to their home country and to their neighbor, the Unites States, which floats over their lives both as a gloomy shadow and a sunny ray of hope.

The corridos are songs that tell stories, mostly about the simple life of the people and their daily struggles, but also about powerful and dangerous narcotraficantes, their legendary deeds and their boldness. It couldn’t be different, since the dealers pay to have corridos written about them. Drug dealing is intensely present in the lives of the Mexicans portrayed in the movie. Mostly fisherman, a lot of them also use their boats to do smuggling jobs, and for that are called lobos marinos (sea wolves).

Madgiel Rubio Burgos is a young composer of corridos who works alongside his father in the sea, the cornfields and the family’s soda store. He sings about poverty, drugs, his hopes of a better future, which he only sees as possible across the border. He sees the United States as a land of possibilities where jobs are abundant and he can make real money, if only he had the means to pay for the trip. In Madgiel we see the Mexican youth of a poor village, he is the irreverent, talkative, often angry, mostly hopeful point-of-view of most of the movie. An interesting character to follow.

Across the border, the Mexican immigrants and their descendants show their intense connection to both Mexico and the United States. They are making it. And singing about it in their corridos.

The crossing of the border through the desert is brutal. A lot of people get seriously hurt or are caught by border patrols. There are terrible stories of the coyotes (people smugglers) leaving behind to perish those who get too sick to make the journey to the end. The Mexicans talk about the good coyotes, those whose intention is to help people get a better life (always for a fee, of course), and the bad coyotes, those who smuggle people out of sheer greed and calculate their profits based on a success rate of how many will live or die in the journey.

To the other side’s approach to the emigration theme through music is engaging, it makes people feel real and close, it gives another dimension to their struggles and provides a connection between the stories shown, it’s a narrative continuity to the movie. Despite its realize year been 2005, its theme is still relevant today, and the questions asked remained mostly unanswered.