Drug war documentary in Bolinas

06/12/2014

The 2011 documentary El Velador (The Night Watchman) has no scenes of graphic violence, yet its subject is the unending drug war in Mexico. Nor are there interviews or voiceovers providing context. Instead, the film silently follows Martin, the guard of a grand mausoleum for deceased drug lords then under construction in Sinaloa. Scratchy snippets of radio broadcast instances of the ongoing violence—shootings, torture, beheadings—that claimed 21,000 lives in the three years leading up to the film’s production. Award-winning filmmaker Natalia Almada, a 2012 MacArthur Foundation fellow and dual citizen who currently splits her time between Lagunitas and Mexico City, lets the camera linger on this strange city of the dead: on posters that bear the faces of those who have been killed, on the women and men who mop the mausoleum floors and wash its windows, on the new graves dug for incoming bodies. Ms. Almada, in an interview with PBS, explained that she couldn’t interview the people of the town because of a “code of silence” at the mausoleum: “[Y]ou have to respect that code of silence in order to gain access…We think if someone tells us about their lives, that’s how we’re going to know what their situation is and that’s how we’re going to care about them. Once you realize that language is not reliable and that people can’t really speak freely, then you have to focus on gestures and actions as a way to enter into someone’s life,” she said. Ms. Almada will attend a Sunday night screening of the hour-long film at Gospel Flat Farm Stand in Bolinas. The event is part of a Roadside Cinema series that kicked off in March and has monthly screenings of films that go “beyond the boundaries of conventional cinema,” according to its organizer, Bolinas resident Melinda Stone, a film studies professor at the University of San Francisco and herself an award-winning filmmaker. El Velador will show this Sunday, June 15 at 8 p.m. All Roadside Cinema shows are $5.