JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

No les pedimos un viaje a la luna: the 1985 earthquake.

No les pedimos un viaje a la luna: seamstresses.

No es por gusto: Rebecca, sex worker.

No es por gusto: battered sex worker.

Tango dance. Surrended by Temptation — documantary about youth and AIDS.

 

La Vela of the Authentic, Intrepid Women Looking for Danger. A travesti Juchitán party.

The queen of La Vela of the Authentic, Intrepid Women Looking for Danger.

Images from Voces silenciadas, libertad amenazada

Carmen Aristegui, renowned Mexican journalist.

 

Poster of Voices Silenced, Freedom under Threat.

 

Carmen Artistegui. Proceso cover.

 

Voices Silenced, Freedom under Threat. Magazine cover: a demonstration against the control of television by a duopoly.

 

De Lara’s politics

Maricarmen de Lara began directing films collectively and, to a considerable extent, in dialogue with militant feminism. For example, Vida de ángel (“An Angel’s Life,” prod: Colectivo Cine Mujer, 1982) is a documentary about domestic work in a lower-class district of Mexico City. It shows the endless housework of housewives in a big city. One member of the collective stated its feminist goal:

“The film helped us in exhibitions with different groups of women, from their most immediate identification with the women in the film, to the analysis of the organization of housewives in their struggle against capital.” (La Boletina, 2).

Without a doubt, the subjects that move de Lara to direct a film or a video have to do with feminist critique. Her involvement in the feminist movement has been fundamental to her work as a cineaste—both through the topics she deals with and through her process of filming and recording with various feminist groups and NGOs such as Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, SexUNAM, Modemujer, GIRE, Sipam, or Diversa. She has also recorded the movement’s activism—for example, in the Court of Reproductive Rights (Tribunal de Derechos Reproductivos) of ten years ago. At first, in the 1980s, she participated actively in the feminist group Cine Mujer with Rosa Martha Fernández, Ángeles Necoechea, Beatriz Mira and Marysa Sistach, among others. Nowadays her most important links are with young filmmakers and her own students.

When she talks about her filmmaking career, Maricarmen de Lara clearly shares the ethos and the aims of the feminist movement:

“They suggested I work as assistant cameraman, in other words, the most delicate specialized humping job in filming … I wasn’t in a mood to wriggle out of it or to confess in front a male team that the loads were too much for me … Today equipment is very different; the cameras are simply lighter and roles are set up in a more inclusive way.”

“I believe these beginnings in feminism left my generation with a taste for combat which time has fine-tuned.” [13]
[open endnotes in new window]

Deliberately and consciously—with an evident reminiscence of Marxism—de Lara accords great importance to the process of cinematographic production, and perhaps she has allowed subject matter to take priority over style. She has stated on one occasion, “The important thing is not the format but the story.” She adds:

“For the last twenty years I have been narrating through images the history of women’s rights and the violence that has existed above all for women with few economic resources” (García, 2001).

I find de Lara’s work feminine (with all the contradictions this implies), aimed at women (although not exclusively), and eminently feminist. Not only is it devoted to exhibiting a set of problems experienced by women—the inequitable relations between genders, sexism, machismo, and even misogyny in its cruelest forms—but in addition, it tries to show the empowerment of women and the possibilities of subverting the order of things. And the work of de Lara is, perhaps, above all, militant. She makes use of film and video in order to recount the lives of women in Mexico. Her work presents different stories, but with a shared concern over the years: to narrate experiences that have to do with violence, and to document resistance and struggle. Furthermore, she considers that video has

“the possibility of translating the knowledge of small groups of academics who are developing a gender perspective into a language capable of reaching a broad audience.” (De Lara, 464).

However, I think the dilemma of reaching a mass audience has not been resolved, nor the polarization of politics vs. pleasure (Smelik, 71). During the 1980s, Ann Kaplan advocated a feminist cinema that would not be situated outside the dominant culture, but would use the traditional film media. It is difficult to say whether or not the work of Maricarmen de Lara approximates to the tendency which Smelik refers to as popular feminist cinema (71), but she herself states:

“I believe that my materials have supported and reflected the growth of feminism in Mexico … I am definitely a feminist and do not believe that feminism has stagnated, even less so died; on the contrary, it has given a historical perspective to crucial present-day subjects”. (De Lara, 2001, 465).

What I have called the neo-feminist movement emerged in Mexico in 1971 and has passed through several well-defined phases.  First it was characterized as a movement centred on the body, on sexuality, on the “private”—hence its motto, “the personal is political.” It was a movement above all inward-directed, in all senses; towards the interior of every woman (in both physical and psychological aspects), and towards the interior of small organized groups (consciousness-raising groups) in which dialogue prevailed. Of course feminists also wanted to modify laws, but these had to do primarily—although not exclusively—with the body. The struggle for political rights such as universal suffrage, which allowed women to vote and be voted for, had already been won with the law passed in 1953. Feminism represented at one and the same time continuity and rupture. It was “discovered” that, in reality, what had to be sought was not equality but difference. Women are not the same as to men and so what was needed was that their differences should be respected. In the 1980s an expansion of feminism was created directed at the lower social strata, the clases populares, to some extent messianic and aimed at providing assistance. The 1990s in Mexico were characterized by the institutionalizing and bureaucratizing of feminism; this also, however, represented its legitimization. The movement expanded into a myriad of Non Governmental Organizations—the “NGO-ization” of feminism. In that decade the movement became more serene and reflective, with an emphasis on academic research into women and the relations between genders.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the new generation of Mexican feminism is above all, like the international women’s suffrage movement, an outward-directed movement; it is conducting struggles in the public arena, in the field of institutions (both governmental and non-governmental) and in formal politics. Nonetheless, the struggles in question are more sophisticated and perhaps richer in many senses. In parallel it is possible that we are approaching the appearance of a new autonomous feminism; there are signs of the need for a resurgence. At this stage, the idea of struggling for the differences of women as a social group as against that of men is often set aside while the differences between women are underlined. At the same time there is a struggle for parity between the genders both in the social and the private spheres.[16]

DeLara’s most recent video is a feature-length documentary that addresses a national political event and Constitutional issue. It also features a strong woman protagonist on the historical stage. Voces silenciadas, libertad amenazada (“Voices Silenced, Freedom under Threat,” 2008, 93 min.) consists of a set of testimonies by journalists, writers and academics of both sexes arranged to present a historical account of the right to information and freedom of expression in the Mexican communications media. The event that triggered off this work was the expulsion of the journalist and broadcaster Carmen Aristegui from the radio station W Radio in 2008. This popular and highly respected journalist is one of the most critical voices on radio and television. After a long history of censorship, limitations and all kinds of obstacles, Maricarmen de Lara takes Aristegui as her example in a video in defense of ethical journalism.

The director regards it as important to recover the memory of the struggles in the mass media in order to make of them “a truly democratic space” (Vértiz, 2009). In Mexico television is controlled by a very powerful duopoly, and this video demonstrates the unscrupulous use of both the State and the private corporate makes of this control. The following comment by Javier Betancourt seems to me to hit the mark when he says of Voces silenciadas:

“The principal merit of this work is the complete absence of sensationalism in the treatment of a media scandal involving the media themselves; thus, from take to take, from one interview to another, with the inclusion of historical documental sequences, de Lara shows that in the arbitrary firing of this Mexican commentator the destiny of freedom of expression in Mexico is at stake (2009).”[17]

One of the fundamental and recurrent questions that comes whenever one refers to a woman’s creativity—whether or not she’s working on a feminist plane—is that of gender difference. Time and time again these kinds of questions come up: Are films made by women different? Is the cinematographic language they use different? Do women have a different way of working? According to filmmaker Busi Cortés, women tend more often to bring their families into their work (Cortés, 2005, 238). In de Lara’s case, it is a fact that she and her partner, Leopoldo Best, have worked together on many occasions. She thinks, in effect, that female cineastes likely foster this kind of working arrangement. Although, if one thinks about it, perhaps such an arrangement is simply normal—because male filmmakers also often involve their families.  

Clearly, de Lara’s observation of society and her choice of subject matter do set her apart from other filmmakers in contemporary Mexico. The entire body of Maricarmen de Lara’s work—from 1980’s No es por gusto to 2009’s Reflexiones ciudadanas—is governed by her main interest: women in Mexico, their subalternity and the different struggles to surmount this situation. Her grounding in feminism provides the basis for her concern with social justice issues. She is a tireless filmmaker that, as she puts the period on one project, is already threading the needle for the next one.

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