‘Sanctorum’ shows that the problem of the Mexican countryside is criminalization

Mexico City, September 18.- “We still don’t know if it’s good or bad, we don’t know what’s causing that noise… it comes from above, it’s not in the town or on the ground. It’s in the air and in the sky,” says her husband, as he spreads beans on a piece of tortilla and sips her cup of coffee.

The elderly couple, sitting at a rustic table, share the food from the milpa while chatting about the overwhelming and fearsome sound “like bells”, a noise “like cars”. They do not know if the signal is benign or the announcement of a major catastrophe, while, with parsimony, the wife throws a piece of fat to a cat that meows insistently.

Outside the cabin of rammed earth, adobe and gutter roof, it is the announcement of the end of the world for that small, simple and calm town, which seems to float, adrift, between the fog and the lightning. The further we go, we will find that the peasants ply their trade in marijuana fields run by organized crime, watched and violated by the police and the army, under the constant threat of executions, disappearances and dispossession, until led by the master of the rural school decide to oppose, armed as they can, while supernatural and unusual phenomena occur in the surroundings.

“We are already dead but we must do something. Every day someone is killed, that’s how we live. Everyone listen, we are going to defend ourselves,” explains Javier Bautista González, a teacher both in the film and in real life in Huitotepec, who teaches the thought of Ricardo Flores Magón and the Constitution to the children in the multigrade classroom, with a rifle over his shoulder.

A strong rural roots

The son of a teacher who began his work as a rural teacher –he had to ride horses two hours a day to teach–, whom he accompanied as a child to the marches for better salaries for teachers, the filmmaker from Puebla, Joshua Gil Delgado, spent a year making his social and community service in a telesecundaria in San Miguel Tzinacapan –near Cuetzalan–, before finishing her degree in Communication from the Universidad Iberoamericana.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1994, he became a fervent supporter of the Zapatista movement, frequently traveling to Chiapas, organizing concerts or collecting groceries, nor that the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos school in Ayotzinapa in 2014 is very present in his work, as well as the slogan: “we are not ashes, we are fire”.

This connection deepened when filming his first feature film, Evil (Mexico, 2015), which allowed him to meet and get closer to his grandfather, Rafael Gil Morán, the protagonist of the film who asked him for help with a script he had written. “Was a shock. In addition to being a farmer, my grandfather claimed to be an empirical filmmaker, he played the trumpet and composed, all the songs that appear on the tape are his. He gave me a very good reason to root. My origin is a family of peasants”, explains the graduate of the Master in Cinematography at the ESCAC of the University of Barcelona.

In search of new lands

After producing the colorful and sensory documentary land of mine (Mexico, 2019), by Pedro González Rubio, about the rural gastronomy of Puebla, Joshua Gil (such is his stage name) wrote a script of just 15 pages which he titled Sanctorum (Mexico-Dominican Republic-Qatar, 2019), but discovered that his home state would not work for him because he needed other temperatures and other social problems. His next options were Guerrero and Michoacán. He then turned to the Michoacan journalist and scouter Daniel Fernandez –fixers of land of cartels (2015), by Matthew Heineman, nominated for an Oscar, who recommended that he purchase life insurance. The film then did not have support “from anything or anyone”, much less a Hollywood budget.

Guerrero did not find it an option either, because before embarking on the trip, seven journalists were intercepted in Acapetlahuaya, who were stripped of their belongings a few kilometers from the military checkpoint in 2017, by a hundred armed individuals. “If something like this happened to them, I am sunk, lost. The moment I want to get involved, even if it’s with a cell phone, I’m not going to go back, ”he explains.

So, with the help of the filmmaker and exhibitor at the Cineclub Mixe et ääw, Damián Martínez Vázquez (Marcos, in the film), went to Tlahuitoltepec to ask the community authorities for permission to observe the town and tour its surroundings. In exchange, they received a list of necessities that ranged from carpentry tools, paint for the school, wood for the seats, musical instruments and music stands, which they were able to buy thanks to the fund approved in the Eficine tax exemption, as well as a promotional video about the local ecotourism park.

“We delivered this offering, a barter, there was no way to put it in a folder or explain it to anyone. They also wanted to know where it was filmed, which scared us, mainly because we filmed in real marijuana plantations – led with blindfolds – and we will never reveal where they are, neither was it in Tlahuitoltepec or Huitepec. We had to protect them at all costs, in the end we put together a very good legal context and we were able to name everyone, because they are actors”, he says.

infiltration of the narco

Sanctorumspoken in Northern Ayöök, revolves around a murdered peasant mother (photographer and filmmaker Nereyda Pérez Vázquez), whose desolate little son (Erwin Antonio Pérez Jiménez), goes out to look for her at night, in the forest full of fireflies, among a herd of xoloescuincles that will lead him to Mictlan, and of men of fire that descend to destroy that world.

After winning the Jury Prize in Amiens; the Fipresci and Critics at the Cinélatino in Toulouse; the Grand Jury Prize at the Sanfic in Santiago; Best Director and Warrior of the Press in Morelia; Mexican Feature Film in Monterrey, and the Ariel for Best Original Music, the fantastic documentary film will premiere on the Mexican billboard on Thursday, September 22 through Parabola Cine y Distribución in 40 theaters in the country.

“The root is to denounce the biggest problem in the Mexican countryside today, regardless of whether it is dying or drying up, which is criminalization. It seems that the indigenous peasants are third class Mexicans, although they are also citizens, and there were very clear policies to make them disappear. What we know is that they are renting or selling their land to the narco to get ahead. For a kilo of marijuana, already harvested, dry and clean, they pay them a thousand pesos, when that same sack, in the market, is worth up to 100 thousand pesos. That is what makes the worst part of the business go to the peasants. It was very important that the film be a battle flag for them: we are going to resist but no longer with our heads down, but with sticks, with weapons and with whatever”, he concludes.

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‘Sanctorum’ shows that the problem of the Mexican countryside is criminalization