First visit? Check out the film, Colonia Perdida, on Vimeo!
As we begin to present and pass around the final video we produced about Lomas del Poleo, a number of questions arise from audiences and given that not everyone is able to attend a physical presentation, we’d like to post some consolidated answers to “FAQs” here. Also, as always, we welcome any comments or questions not addressed here at our email account, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some quick links on this site, if this is your first time visiting!
What is happening now in Lomas del Poleo?
The two best sources of information that are updated very frequently about Lomas are their Facebook page (primarily in Spanish) and another WordPress blog with news and updates called Lomas del Poleo (primarily in English). Also, especially if you are a student, please consider joining our Facebook page, Students in Solidarity with Lomas del Poleo!
Why, exactly, is this violence happening? Why is there a land dispute?
In recent years, a plan emerged (devised mostly by bi-national business leaders, including the Zaragozas) to build an international bridge that would link New Mexico with the land which is now Lomas del Poleo. Given the amount of foot traffic that occurs in these ports of entry, this development meant that the land which was once on the outskirts became incredibly valuable. The Zaragozas historically owned a piece of land nearby, and with the announcement of the new port of entry, began to aggressively make claims that Lomas del Poleo was also their land. That was in 2003. Since then, given that the legal systems of Mexico have been unable to resolve the land dispute, the Zaragozas have used violence, bribery, and have even sat down to negotiate briefly with the residents before backing out of the peaceful discussion to resort to further violence (that was earlier in 2011). Even completely disregarding maps that say that Lomas del Poleo is national land, and therefore legally belongs to those residents who have peacefully occupied it for 5 or more years according to Mexican land law — one must wonder why the Zaragozas would resort to extrajudicial violence and offer to pay large sums for land that is truly, rightfully theirs.
Why didn’t you interview the Zaragoza family? There are two sides to this story.
On a practical level, getting in contact and interviewing the Zaragoza family would have been incredibly difficult given the current climate of Ciudad Juarez. More importantly, however, is that as documentary filmmakers we do not operate on the assumption that any situation only has two sides — rather, it has infinite perspectives. Moreover, finding the Truth is not best served by giving equal time in a given article, video, or other media to two “sides,” especially when one side already has enough unlimited resources to repeat and publish their version of events a million times over. Rather, a short video like this one serves to “equalize” the incredibly imbalanced version of events that already exists in the public sphere by focusing very intently on the community which has by all accounts been far less heard and acknowledged.
In short, it is not realistic to say that all versions of a story already have equal public exposure and therefore, in order to reflect the story accurately, our video too must give equal exposure to these perspectives. The world and its media, unfortunately, does not give 50/50 of its attention to incredibly wealthy, powerful families (after whom a port of entry is already named in Juarez) and to the farmers and children in Lomas del Poleo. It’s currently more like 99.9/0.1. Therefore, with our own limited resources to make it film, it is in greater service of finding Truth to sing that which is unsung.
Why did we get involved with Lomas del Poleo, as students from far-away Georgetown University?
There are a number of answers to this question. Most succinctly, we had the opportunity to do a short documentary on the border. We wanted to work with the people of Lomas because in a world that is suffused not only with violent crime but also silence and impunity, within the story of this colonia was a moment in which people were still persistently fighting for their basic rights as tenants and human beings. The story and subsequently the documentary are hard and no less saddening than the rest of the world — but the people’s response to the violence is a moving and important stand on the side of human dignity and fairness that deserves to be preserved. It is one of the few moments in recent Mexican history in which a community is not giving in to a prevailing atmosphere of impunity and at least naming and identifying the crimes as they occur.
Additionally, it is our view that the United States’ policies contribute heavily to many of the realities in Mexico, especially the drug-related violence now gripping the country, and therefore we have a responsibility to confront these realities. Even beyond this, we are neighbors and friends, and it is crucial to build collaborative, positive relationships between citizens of the U.S. and citizens of Mexico in order to counterbalance the unhealthy and often detrimental relationship of our governments. Thus, it was not a “favor” to do this video, but a gift and privilege from which we learned a great deal about what it means to build a good community.
In the midst of maintaining the plantón in the elementary school Alfredo Sahagún in Lomas del Poleo, the colonos attended and spoke at a screening of Colonia Perdida at a conference at the main University in Juárez. With a number of local and national students and professors in attendance, the video was well-received and provoked a number of questions for the audience. José Espino, Silvia Valdez, and one of the video’s co-directors Marley Moynahan participated in a question and answer session after the event.
Mientras los plantones en la escuela primaria de Alfredo Sahagún en Lomas del Poleo, los y las colonos/as asistieron y presentaron en una presentación de Colonia Perdida en un concreso de la universidad en Juárez. Con unos estudiantes y profesores locales y nationales en la audiencia, se recibieron bien el video y había muchas preguntas después. José Espino, Silvia Valdez, y una de las directoras del video, Marley Moynahan, participaron en la sesión de preguntas después del event.
After a full year since we first arrived in El Paso, we are finishing Colonia Perdida: la Historia de Lomas del Poleo, or Lost Colonia: the Story of Lomas del Poleo. Please visit our Vimeo account to view the video or alternatively watch it in four parts on YouTube, and don’t forget to check out our other short films about El Paso. Please feel free to view it, download it, and distribute it far and wide! If you would like to request a DVD, please email us at email@example.com with “DVD Request” as the subject line. We will continue to update the blog with news of any additional short videos, distribution efforts, and/or opportunities to support the colonias we worked with.
Plans for the film & one last reflection on the production phase
The film will primarily be distributed online and by DVD, and will hopefully be an instrument for students, activists, and border residents to educate and learn more about Mexican land rights, Ciudad Juárez, and the meaning of development. Colonia Perdida is not meant to be, nor is capable of being, a “complete” picture of the story of Lomas. Rather, it is a snapshot of a point in the history of a once-large community. Lomas has been reduced to a small group of people guarding land which has become more precious to them than life itself in the most literal sense. It is telling a collaborative perspective of the farmer, the grandmother, the organizer, and not the developer or government official. As we see it, and as explained more deeply in previous blog posts, every story has a particular and necessarily limited perspective (or rather a collection of them). In turn, documentary must be mindful and intentional in identifying whose voices are often lost in the fray of modern society. The reproduction of these voices is ultimately more of a gift to those who haven’t had the opportunity to hear these stories than to those who are gracious and brave enough to tell them.
In discussions of social change and solidarity, you often hear the phrase of being a “voice for the voiceless,” especially in fields like journalism and documentary, which specifically seek to uncover buried truths. In this process, I have come to believe strongly that there is no such thing as a voiceless community or group or individual — rather, there are many people who are deaf. The process of making this video was a collaborative effort of a community and ourselves — with, not for, them. They are more than victims in front of a camera, and we are more than hands operating a camera. I am humbled and glad to say that the video, albeit not a professional-grade film, emerged from a common effort and reflects a piece of everyone who contributed to its production.
As in the credits of the video, I would really like to thank the people who made it possible. First and foremost, the community of Lomas del Poleo, for letting us into their homes, for sharing food and fiestas with us. Also, the friends of Lomas, who helped in our early education about the situation, in our background research, and our safe transport across the border; our families, for their understanding, their support, and their faithful comments on the blog posts; professors and friends in El Paso who got us started, especially Gina Nuñez, Irasema Coronado, and Howard Campbell (all of UTEP); our friends and mentors back in D.C., especially Adam Lifshey, Ellie Walton, and Andréa Schmidt for taking time to give thoughtful advice and support during post-production; and to friends in El Paso and Juárez who also kindly corrected my Spanish subtitles.
On a personal note, I also want to thank my co-producer, co-director, and favorite aunt of my future children, Katy Tucker, for adventuring with me into the uncharted territory of documentary, for keeping us on track and balanced, for picking up an interview when I was lost for words, for making me slow down and rest, and for invariably and casually annihilating my attempts at digital file organization. Lastly, there is no possible way that any part of this video could have happened — its conception, its planning, its production, its post-production, its distribution — without the meticulous and dedicated support of our Executive Producer, Matthew Gladden. He is the secret key to the entire project, the spark of energy that ignites each step of the way.
This time last year, Katy and I were planning the beginnings of the film, buying plane tickets, and working out a production and research calendar for the following months. It is somewhat unnerving to be approaching the year anniversary of heading out to El Paso to begin this adventure!
Revised plan for the project, and a new timeline
Our first and longest video will be focused on Lomas del Poleo and the testimony and lives of those residents who remain after many years of a complex and highly-contested land dispute. This film is interwoven into my independent study for the semester, and thus will be completed by the end of the semester (May 3).
With our footage from the north side of the border, we hope to add more short films to the two we currently have up from the summer about Ofelia and José. These snapshots (5-10 minutes) will paint a tapestry of life in the colonias, focusing especially on the efforts by community leaders to bring electricity and water to their communities. These short El Paso videos will be hopefully completed by the time we arrive in El Paso for our final visit in the end of June of this year.
Further reflections on editing
Since our final, vivid reflections on the production process, and our inspiring return in January to the El Paso / Ciudad Juárez region, we have been inundated with the rest of our lives: classes, internships, jobs, and the looming specter of graduation. Everything piles on, and different commitments shift around, float to the top, or are relegated to the miscellaneous corner of the mind (not entirely unlike our dining room table). Editing the film in a midst of this mess was both a challenge and a gift for me. The chunks of time necessary to re-immerse myself in the footage were scarce, and even when I did find the time to dedicate to editing and the study of documentary, I sometimes felt like a blind architect, wading through an unfamiliar process with very little guidance. In short, my lack of formal training in the art of documentary editing keeps me eternally humble. I have to give a shout out to the many online discussion boards that helped me find the right editing tool in Final Cut Pro, and want to thank Andréa Schmidt and Ellie Walton for their encouragement and incredibly helpful feedback. Both have also been there from the beginning of my interest in documentary film. Thanks, y’all!
Overall, I have been learning about the two main stages of constructing a video: building a narrative (what is being “said” by the piece – not only through the interviews and spoken content but also the images and moments of pause) and then – for lack of a better way to say it – making it beautiful. After telling the story with the most accuracy and completeness possible, you have to smooth out the edges of the narrative, and wade through footage for not only the most ‘accurate’ shot but also with the best composition or color or angle; a fleeting but illuminating portrait of a subject when they glance at the camera. It is subtle, time-consuming, and a lot of fun.
What about distribution?
Many people ask what we’re ultimately hoping to accomplish with the project. One important lesson that I learned from this work was to try to work backwards from this question, and yet also be flexible enough to arrive at a new answer. In our research process before production, we asked people from the area what they would like to see from these videos – what could potentially be accomplished? Residents prioritize the videos reaching the right audience: those who, on a local level, make decisions about colonias and could perhaps use further education on the communities they are being asked to serve. These kinds of bodies would include local city governments, community centers, advocacy non-governmental organizations, and academic departments that do research in colonias. Above all, we hope that the community partners in the films ultimately view the project as something relevant and useful, and thus a lot of our energy in June and beyond will be focused on a localized impact.
Beyond the local, we have also come to see how many of the stories of this project have great relevance to the United States and Mexico as communities: They not only speak to the experiences of the residents of colonias, but to the experience of poor, rural communities across the continent. In addition to having all of the material freely available online, we have mused about ways to make the contents of the film further accessible: We would like to find pieces that would work as short radio documentaries; we could transcribe much of the testimony to be published in written form; film stills could be a wonderful photography exhibit. Among the many beautiful things about video, the versatility of its original form, with layers of visuals and audio, is one of the things which most impresses me.
We have a new video up, and have also helped to initiate an online petition supporting the people of Lomas!
More updates soon,
Marley & KT
We have surfaced!
After a semester with Katy abroad in southern Mexico and myself completing a final full-time semester in D.C., we have started the serious work of shaping our summer footage into workable documentary films.
Ultimately, hopefully by early summertime, we hope to have three vignettes from our some 40 hours of interviews and desert scenery. When looking at the scope of our footage, it seemed too limiting to go with a more traditional narrative structure of an hour to an hour and a half, and so we both settled (independent of one another) on the notion of creating connected thematic films exploring life in colonias that would be able to be more inclusive of the broad spectrum of human experience that we had the privilege of engaging during our summer months.
The editing process.
The first stage, which is thankfully pulling to a close, is referred to as subclipping — breaking up the long clips into manageable shorter clips of 30 seconds to a minute or two, well-labeled, so that all of our footage is organized and easily re-arrangeable. It is a helpful, if tedious, process in which we can get a very thorough sense of what material we have and therefore what would be the best way to arrange it.
Our second stage took place largely over the final week of winter vacation when Katy and I returned to El Paso to visit our friends as well as to share some of the highlights of their footage. Toting around our laptop and external hard drives, we did house visit upon house visit, which were all very humbling and wonderful experiences. It was a joy to be welcomed back into everyone’s home. We got fully updated: changes in local politics, work-related injuries, vacation photographs, new batches of puppies, advancements in community campaigns, and often sobering reports of the continually escalating violence in Ciudad Juárez.
There were generally two elements to each visit, both in the U.S. and in Mexico: First, the food, the chatting, the hugs, the stories and chistes (witness the epic cooking session we had with Dolores! very serious.)
The second was pulling out our laptop and hard drives, often in homes without electricity, and going through the footage highlights that we had prepared for each visit. It was an incredibly affirming experience: community partners looked on with curiosity and usually with kind of an embarrassed smile on their face, asking about the software and how it worked, and ultimately looking content with their stories, their faces, and their homes. We got a lot of green lights and good feedback on our plans for making vignettes in the coming year.
Perhaps one of the most moving visits was to Lomas del Poleo, just outside of Juárez. We were fortunate enough to visit the Mexican city on the Día de los Reyes Magos, a much-celebrated holiday that involves a cake in which small plastic figures are embedded. If you are so (un)fortunate as to bite into one of the small dolls, then you’re required to make tamales for everyone in February. After a lot of delicious food, prepared by Luci, we sat around her wooden table, lit by kerosene lamps, and flipped through footage of each of the interviews. One younger child, squirming in the quiet of the rapt attention with which everyone considered the videos, pointed and grinned when his mother appeared. Just in case no one noticed, he commented loudly to her that she was on the screen. We were also able to get fully updated on the current status of the struggle in Lomas, and got some short interviews with the residents in the dying evening light.
The coming semester.
In addition to updates on our three vignettes and conversations with community partners, I have the pleasure of doing an independent study on documentary history & practice for the semester, and thus may integrate reflections on this research from time to time. We will both continue to contribute, and will do our best to upload some tastes of our editing process to the Vimeo site as well as sometimes to the Paso del Sur YouTube account, which hosts videos about Lomas del Poleo.