Monday, September 20, 2010

2501 MIGRANTS: A JOURNEY--a different immigrant/emigrant film from Yolanda Cruz


Quite literally art about the "immigrant" problem -- though in this case the problem is with the emigrants: where they come from, rather than where they're going -- 2501 MIGRANTS: A JOURNEY, is a new documentary from filmmaker Yolanda Cruz (shown below). In it, she introduces us to Mexican artist Alejandro Santiago from the state of Oaxaca (Ms Cruz also hails from there), a middle-aged, middle-class (if such a description actually can be used about Mexico) family man who supports that family via his art, and who decided a couple of years back to create an enormous art installation of 2,501 life-size sculptures showing and dedicated to each individual who had left his village of Teococuilco over time to immigrate to the USA.

The art as "art" is impressive enough: big and powerful and primitive -- with the machete swipes to the clay among its most interesting features -- but the project itself is unusual and important.  Santiago (shown below, sculpting) tells us that he had always come back to his village during some celebration or other, and so for years was unaware of any problem. Only when he returned one day during a non-celebratory time did he realize what a ghost town Teococuilco had become, due to so many of its citizens leaving to pursue the chance to work in North America.  Ms Cruz then explores what happens to these "lost" citizens.  Often, it is not pretty.

Many of them die en route to the USA and their families then must pay for the bodies being shipped back to Mexico to be buried. Most surprising, to me at least, was learning how much these emigrants, once settled in the USA, do for their former community: sending money back home (local banks are filled with this income) to the point that these emigrants feel that they should have the major say in what happens to and in their former home.  We also meet and watch many of the workers in Santiago's studio -- young boys and girls, men and women -- whom he trains and who learn a skill via his training and their work.

One charming note is sounded when the artist learns that he must keep these young people in their "element," so he imports farm animals for them to care for -- which also helps the kids feel more at home. This provides some moments of pure joy, particularly one in which a little donkey cavorts with some dogs on the property.

We watch as the sculptures grows -- and then suddenly are destroyed due to a major rainfall and flooding.  2501 Migrants: a journey is a kind of "reverse" immigrant story -- told from the point of view of the place and people left behind -- and as such it occupies an original and thought-provoking niche in the current "immigration" discussion.  The conclusion takes us to the actual exhibition of the statues in Monterrey.  Seeing these marvelous sculptures lined up in the outdoors -- on the green grass with the blue sky and billowy clouds behind them -- is beautiful indeed.

The hour-long documentary DVD (from Cinema Libre Studio), complete with an array of interesting extras, is available now for sale or rental.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just watched this incredible film on my local PBS station 2 nights ago. It was so moving. Must see for yourself. Truly eye opening. Thank you to Yolanda Cruz for documenting this journey and thank you to the most amazing artist Mr. Alejandro Santiago and his family. Sincerely, Paradise

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Paradise. It is worth mentioning that this doc just appeared on PBS -- and probably will again, so maybe DVR it, those of you who want to view.