Ayotzinapa, The Turtle’s Way, directed by Enrique García Meza, and produced by Bertha Navarro and Guillermo del Toro, is part of 2018 Ambulante Film Festival, where it has been the inaugural film in several states. In an interview, the director talked about the pain and anger that led to the making of this documentary, about his investigation and filming process, and about his surprise at the public’s reaction, which has far exceeded his expectations.
How did this project come up?
I was deeply hurt when I saw the news, I think it was the 28 or 29 [September, 2014] when they published it, it was a small note and it talked about 46. It caused a lot of anger in me. I noticed that Bertha [Navarro] and Guillermo [del Toro] were very angry, and they wanted to do something about it.
Before the three of us talked, I had already decided to go to Ayotzinapa. I mentioned this idea to Bertha and she said yes right away. In a couple of days, she talked with Guillermo, we talked about it and Bertha asked me for some time to organize everything regarding the production. But I did not respect that timeframe; I went to Ayotzi to see things, to calibrate.
Ayotzinapa, The Turtle’s Way was born basically out of the pain and anger the three of us felt, and it was possible thanks to Bertha, Guillermo and all the great crew that participated in its making.
How was the investigation and filming process?
The investigation occurred at the same time of the filming, once we were there.
I have several friends and acquaintances that are rural teachers, so I asked them about Ayotzi and the explanation was given there. The information that I received at the beginning –and with which I began to know where to investigate– came from the school. This led me to visit Iguala several times, where people were starting to talk, so I was putting together a structure to understand what had happened.
I arrived in Guerrero on October 2 or 3, I returned on the 8, and then I got back with things more in order on October 16, with the production formed by Bertha, Guillermo and me. I saw strange news, in the sense that they did not understand very well what was happening, there was a lot of information and sometimes we did not know where it came from or how it got there, but we figured it out over time and with research.
The people in Iguala helped a lot, they obviously did not want to talk near my cell phone. And little by little, as time went on, we were more informed. For example, I remember that in January we already knew about the buses and that there were five of them. Even at the school, we were shown a detailed list of who was on each bus. The press did not know it until the GIEI [Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts] gave a statement about four or five months after the investigation process.
In the research and in the documentary, you go little by little, you are not in a hurry and then, as the story is alive, everything comes into place
As they tell you more and more, logic emerges, and the stories make sense. That was one of the best sensations, thinking, “I already got it, I did it”… like on a map or like when you play Battleship and you fill in the holes with numbers and letters. I felt like that at times, and I like it because everyone, the GIEI, Tryno Maldonado, Anabel Hernández, were reaching a very similar point. Yes, we differ in small things, but deep down I think we all have the same target.
How was the process of finding and getting the archive material that you use in the documentary?
A guy who is no longer in school, known as “Harry” because he looks like Harry Potter, gave me all the material on the Ayotzinapa students. About the television footage, the production processed and paid the rights for it. With the others, for example with Proceso or with La Jornada, it was a matter of negotiating with each one and, overall, everyone was willing to collaborate. The support of La Jornada was huge, I say it from the heart, and it felt very good.
Regarding the official material, CEPROPIE [Production Center of Informative and Special Programs] gave it to us, we asked for it and we thought that they would not give it to us, but they did.
Why did you find it important to include the official version of the events?
It is important to know their version because they maintain it. Of course, many of us differ with it because it does not look like the one we have. In the documentary we see that their investigation wasn’t accurate. Even the PGR [Office of the General Prosecutor] has a department that is like internal affairs and their investigation points out that it did not happen there, that there were no bones in the landfill, neither in the Cocula River, that they were planted. That report of internal affairs of the PGR is on the Internet, if you look for it, it’s all there. But it is important to include the official version because we give voice to those who maintain that version.
It is the audience that ends up saying, “it makes sense, it doesn’t make sense, something doesn’t seem right.
What you show in the documentary differs from the official version; did you face any difficulties at the time of its making?
There were tense moments. At the hotel where I was staying, they left some invitations asking that I stop playing with the camera. I do not know if it was because the police chiefs didn’t like me. I don’t know if it was something personal, but people in uniform came to leave the messages. There was also a moment when the boys and I were encapsulated, they were recording us from head to toe for about 30 minutes; I was immobile, I did not know what to do, but the boys decided to break the siege and I left with them. There were several tense moments and you know you are being watched, but it never happened that someone spoke to me to say, “I’m this person and I want you to stop recording.”
The Ayotzinapa students were on their way to the march to commemorate the Tlatelolco Massacre and, at the beginning of the documentary, you show archive images of the student movement of that time. Could you talk a little about the relationship between both situations?
It is interesting that the students of the Rural Teachers’ Colleges were going to meet in Ayotzinapa to go together to the march on October 2. For the students of these colleges, it is very important to go to that march every year, because they are young people aware of the situation in the country, and attending is part of their learning and their curriculum. This year, it was Ayotzi’s turn to receive all the students, and it is very significant that this happened to them. It may have been just a coincidence, but it is clear to me that rural schools in the country have been disappearing little by little. It is important for the government to disappear them because they represent an economic, moral and social burden for it; the government to deal doesn’t want to deal with a school that is causing trouble for them.
What has been the reaction of the public that has watched Ayotzinapa, The Turtle’s Way?
In Ambulante’s press conference at the Morelia International Film Festival, I liked the reaction. The movie touched them… they were surprised. Even the rudest or the most “anti-ayotzi” people felt moved. In Guadalajara [in the FICG], there was a reaction I still have not managed to assimilate. People were shocked, and when I saw them, I also entered into a kind of shock.
And before showing the film, what did you think the reaction would be?
Actually, I pictured two versions of what could happen. A reaction like, “ah is fine, but nothing special”. And the other one is that I always wanted to cause the “realization”; it’s like a personal philosophy of life: once you realize something, everything changes.
I thought, ‘I hope people realize. I do not want to be right, do not believe me, but I hope you realize it.’
My hope was that “realization”, but the reaction of the people far exceeded what I came to imagine. I am pleasantly surprised. Something to take into consideration is that the parents, a surviving student, Marisa, the wife of Julio Cesar Mondragón, and their daughter were with me in Guadalajara. Their reactions were very strong, it was the first time they saw the documentary, and maybe that’s why I felt very nervous. Maybe, I felt overwhelmed and that’s why I still do not understand what is happening. It seems that at the opening screenings of Ambulante in Oaxaca and Veracruz something similar happened to what happened in Guadalajara.
In your opinion, what is the power of documentary cinema to transform the here and now?
Documentary cinema is a reflection of yourself; it helps you to see yourself, to see a side of yourself that you do not know. A documentary is a reflection, it is real, it is not fiction, it quickly connects you to people, here and now.
In what way does Ayotzinapa, The Turtle’s Way affect the present moment? That is, why is it important to see it here and now?
It is always important to see yourself, because when you achieve that connection with yourself, you will be able to really see the person next to you. This is not about individualism, but about community, society, and that is what I think a documentary achieves. Ayotzinapa, The Turtle’s Way is just a piece of this whole history that we are living in Mexico, that is, Ayotzinapa is very big because of what has happened, but it happens every day, continuously, in our country. I think that’s the power of this documentary.