On independent media and the Zapatista struggle and global implications.
Interview with Nicolas Défossé, director of the documentary “¡Viva Mexico! ” and Adolfo Lopez Magana, coordinator of the photo exhibition “La Otra Mirada” and independent media activist
1. Your work documents the journey of Subcomandante Marcos from the mountains of southeastern Mexico to the northern border with United States, spokesman and military leader of the EZLN, during which networks were found and wove with many social activists in Mexico. What is the goal of the documentary?
The film tries to be faithful to the call, made at the beginning of the national trail of 6 months in 2006, which was defined in this way by the Subcomandante Marcos in Palenque, Chiapas: “start building the mirror that we are below”. That was the stated purpose of this first trip. And from this collective invitation comrades from the independent media decided to follow the trip trying to give more visibility to the “invisible” people that struggle and resist in the four corners of the country and beyond borders. In this regard, the priority was to let others that struggle and resist know that they are not alone and that there are many other struggles and resistance throughout the country.
I joined in this collective effort by first writing articles day by day during the beginning of the tour in the southeast of Mexico (Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche), then making a series of 12 short and medium length documentaries about specific resistance, focusing on the north-west and west of the country (Sonora, Baja California, Nayarit, Colima), mainly struggles of indigenous peoples who are generally less known than those in the south of the country. Also on the way I co-produced a documentary called “Breaking the Siege “on the repression that occurred in San Salvador Atenco on May 3rd and 4th, 2006.
At the end of all these recordings that were made during 6 months, at various times, I collected about 450 hours of material, with which all these works were made, and with which it was possible to make even more short films. But I decided at that moment that it was time to go back to the original project that was attempted, a single feature-length documentary, that no longer focused on a single struggle or a single case, but to represent the extent of resistance movements in Mexico from below, focusing especially on the struggle for land. That was my idea from the beginning. Because what attracted my attention originally, when leaving Chiapas and Quintana Roo, was the discovery that the struggle for land and dignity, the struggle for living spaces and decent work, is found in every corner of the country, even in the Mexican Caribbean.
The objective of a feature-length documentary called ¡Viva Mexico!, is precisely not to stay in a fragmented history but to try to rescue a piece of collective history and a portrait of a people’s movement and their resistance. A piece of history that many do not know or that is manipulated because the mass media do not let them know about it or there is a very questionable treatment of the information such as when the events in Atenco happened. The documentary is made then in a very precise historical context in time but at the same time aims to create a portrait that goes beyond the context of “today” in the sense of making a collective portrait, a Mexican “mural” from these testimonies, faces and histories. It is a celebration and a tribute to the people’s dignity, their intelligence, sense of humour, their capacity for action and rebellion, their poetry: by going against the image of the mass media (the look that looks from above to below), with the concern to avoid paternalism or condescension, but to give back dignity to the people in an image of comradely relations, of empathy with people who struggle and with frequent admiration towards them. This documentary is a great tribute to popular culture in the best sense of the word, celebrating people’s capacity for action and for expression while they enjoy themselves. That is the first intention sought from the start, despite denouncing a number of things, the key is to enjoy oneself and enjoy the words of the people, their rebellious humour and dignified rage. That is why there is no commentary or voice-over nor interviews with outside experts, who would tell us what to think or take from people’s testimonies. The documentary gives only space to the people and tries to make people visible, to show that there are not only people but a community. In this sense the film while talking about the initiative of the Other Campaign, it adheres to the defined objective of this first trip: learning to listen and watch the people who resist and struggle for land, dignity, freedom and justice in Mexico from below. To give visibility to the invisible in an invitation to listen, to travel, to meet with the other. All that, incidentally, has much to do with the goals of the documentary in itself. That too makes me feel invited and included, from the beginning, to participate in this collective effort.
2. What is the contribution of independent media in the struggle against unfetted capitalism? Where its potential lies and what are its limitations?
In the current crisis of capitalism, mass media is their best weapon; they can manipulate public opinion and act freely without complaint or questioning. This is where the role of alternative media comes in, offering another perspective, another point of view, another opinion, while at the same time making complaints and demands. Thus, the vast majority of the people who consume and discard information from the mass media like television, know that there is this other information, that they can effectively exercise their right to choose among several options of alternative media communication and that they can even use and create it themselves to generate their own information, and their own version of what happens around them, these alternative media will have the necessary strength, that now they do not have, to balance and respond to the manipulation and alienation of the mass media.
3. You and Adolfo Lopez, who created an exhibition called “La Otra Mirada”, are making a tour through Mexico and Europe to present your projects. What is the public reaction?
4. What are the most interesting questions that have been asked by the public?
5. How do people relate, for example in northern Mexico or France, their reality of life with the Zapatista proposal to create another form of politics?
Nicolas Défossé: The priority was first to show the documentary and photo exhibition in Mexico, because we try to contribute to the people’s collective memory. Especially considering that people are not aware of these stories of rebellion or who see only through the sensationalism of the media, speaking of them only when there is violence and generally to criminalising the “rebels” seeing them often as delinquents. We did a tour of 60 performances in 16 cities in Mexico in August and September, trying to go to different and open places such as universities, film libraries, cultural centres, public places, etc. Also in order to reach a broader and diverse audience. The tour worked well with the public. There were many invitations so I ended up doing over 100 performances in 25 cities in the country. And there were always many questions and comments after the screening. We had talks and discussions of 1.30 hrs with the public, and that after 2 hrs projection! What we have seen, from questions from the public, is that there is a huge vacuum of information about the Zapatista movement and other resistance movements in Mexico. That is both in Mexico and Europe. Because most people only get information from mass communication media and if the media do not report what is happening, unfortunately many people believe that nothing is happening. Therefore, during the tour, we had to keep talking about alternative communication media, saying that they exist and people who want information or who want to disseminate information may do so without relying on the mass media giving them information.
Thus, it always happens in the presentations that the public appreciates having access to information that they cannot get to or that is manipulated. Then, they watch the film, the photo exhibition, and they learn about alternative communication media, a gateway to enter to find this other information. I remember some young people in Xalapa, Veracruz, who at the end of the presentation, asked me if they could screen the documentary, showing it to friends and relatives, because when the repression in San Salvador Atenco happened they were 13 years old, and they only know the version broadcast on television. We always say to people who want to show the film, while screenings are free, that they can also follow the idea of the tour: people take the documentary and continue showing it. I also bring DVDs on sale during the tour. But beyond the possibility of having access to forbidden information, we also had other types of comments that I summarize through a comment from a lady of Torreon, Cuahuila, who told us: “I had seen the repression in Atenco 4 years ago, and I had forgotten. Now that I saw it in the documentary, I will never forget.” That speaks not just about access to other information but the challenge is also – and above all? – To remember. Too often we “consume” information and next day we throw it away. In this sense the mass media generates also misinformation and forgetfulness, rather than knowledge and memory. So when this lady told us this, we felt that we achieved exactly what we were looking for: to contribute to the people’s collective memory, which is precisely one of the main objectives that encourages us to do these tours. We are betting that people will further disseminate the documentary in their working and living spaces, from hand to hand, mouth to mouth, ideally achieving this piece of history and collective portrait becoming part of the collective memory of Mexican people.
Another reaction we have seen in the presentations in Mexico is that people tell us “what is happening in the film is the same as what is happening here in our city, village, neighbourhood.” And several times the presentation became an opportunity for people to meet later, then keep in touch and talk about how to resist impositions on the population from above for the power of money. In Europe, although less than in Mexico, the documentary has also provoked comments about resistance and struggle in the old continent. As if the documentary is a mirror given by struggles here, raising questions such as “What is our capacity to resist here in Europe? What can we learn from the struggle for dignity of the Mexican people?” And several people have shown great interest in the proposal and the spirit of the Other Campaign is seeking to build this listening to others, seeking to join struggles, while respecting the autonomy of each individual struggle, in an effort clearly independent of the political parties. In the context of disappointment and weariness of the population from politicians and parties, both in Mexico and in Europe, the idea that another way of doing politics is possible, outside political parties, is something that is catching on and that very probably will continue growing.
6. In Mexico, what has been achieved in The Other Campaign, and what are the difficulties?
The Other Campaign has achieved many people from below and to the left struggling and resisting against the devastating advance of capitalism, recognising their identity, knowing that they are not alone, that their struggle is small, but that it is part of something bigger. Recognising and identifying all these struggles as adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and the Other Campaign, new relations have been established among comrades of national and international struggles. Solidarity with the Zapatista movement has become a relationship of equals that struggle and resist from below and to the left. This has allowed the experiences of struggle and partial victories to cross-pollenate, to inspire and encourage other struggles as well as enable an immediate national and international reaction to any act of repression by the state, as it is currently the case of Bachajón, Chiapas.
It is not yet at the point of organising and creating a great national plan of civil and peaceful struggle. At this point, there might be complications, because the Other Campaign has made a broad call to different ways of thinking, which will meet and should find similarities without losing autonomy and self-determination. This is a challenge that will be faced and that is worth facing.
Interview: Luz Kerkeling