Frozen Revolutions: EL GRITO
(Leobardo López Aretche, Mexico, 1968-1970, 100 min. In Spanish with English subtitles)
As part of Frozen Revolutions, a series that revisits the documentation of social movements from the year 1968, we turn to the Olympics. To American eyes, the defining image of the Mexico City Olympics is probably John Dominis’ photograph of Gold and Bronze Medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing at the world’s attention, their fists raised from the podium. Yet for Mexicans it’s impossible to acknowledge the 1968 Summer Olympics without the Tlatelolco Massacre just days before the games began, wherein a squabble between graffitists and cops escalated into a massive confrontation between student activists and the Mexican military.
Small-scale protests, initially sparked by a feud between vocational schools in Mexico City, escalated into multiple weeks of nonviolent occupation: students and faculty alike from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) were unified in their protests against the repressive regime of then-president Díaz Ordaz. Specifically, the student and his ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), widely seen as corrupt for its accommodation of United States military and financial support ahead of the Games. The students issued statements alleging that the myth of Mexico as “a model for other underdeveloped countries to follow has been destroyed by the government forces themselves.”
A cluster of students armed with 16mm cameras began to capture the unfolding action in the streets, including a 24 year old film student named Leobardo López Aretche. Although its shooting was an open-ended and collaborative effort, López took control of the editing process to shape what would become the finished film: El Grito (The Scream). It tracks the escalation of the rallies into a full-bore standoff between demonstrators and anti-riot granderos, allegedly paid in cash per arrest, who put down an occupation of the nearby National Politechnical Institute. While the protests had grown to include all sections of progressive society (including middle-class citydwellers, labor activists, neighbors, faculty and students alike) in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the military ended up surrounding the protests in a “pincer movement” on October 2nd, opening fire with Ordaz’ permission. In the end, over 1300 people were arrested, and 400 protesters were killed.
Beyond the ensuing nationwide scandal, Tlatelolco is a critical event in public memory in Mexico – but was not depicted onscreen for over 20 years until Jorge Fons’ dramatization Rojo Amanecer in 1991. El Grito is the only feature-length work credited to López, who committed suicide two years later. (Also of interest is the contribution of journalist Oriana Fallaci, then covering the student movement, as “screenwriter”.) The film is considered the only primary-source documentary about the massacre, equal parts riveting tactical journalism and a bleak indictment of the repression undertaken by the PRI (whose control of Mexico’s government went uninterrupted from 1929 to 2000.) After decades spent as a suppressed, secret film, UNAM is now distributing it in a clean digital restoration. This will be the first screening of the film in the United States and the New York City premiere, fresh off a screening at the 2018 Viennale.
Thursday, November 8, 7:30pm
322 Union Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn