Documentary explores San Miguel, 200 years later
By Oswaldo Mejía
Mexican filmmaker Mitl Valdez recently premiered his documentary 200 años después (200 Years Later) in Mexico City. The film explores those ideals that led to the struggle for freedom from Spanish rule and made San Miguel de Allende the cradle of Mexican independence.
“When I first visited San Miguel and walked through its streets, lived with its people and delved into its past through its colonial buildings and its museums, the impression I got from its current reality was so unexpected that the need arose in me to make a film to investigate what is happening there and to share this revealing experience with those who do not know San Miguel de Allende,” said the filmmaker in an interview with Atención.
“The reality I observed since the first time I was there and during subsequent stays does not match the dazzling vision of the official advertising campaign that promotes the city as a tourist destination. I discovered the problems behind the façade of the tourist boom, which makes certain sectors of the community feel uncomfortable and which they prefer to keep hidden, while it angers others who dare to speak,” said Valdez.
“200 años después is perhaps the only documentary so far showing the other side of San Miguel. Some will ask me: ‘Why, instead of improving the country’s image, do you worsen it?’ And I will answer: ‘It is necessary to show what has been overlooked, because we must recognize our problems in order to solve them,’” Valdez said.
The first sequence in the film shows the former mayor Luz María Núñez uttering the “Grito” (cry) of Independence in September 2010. From a balcony, accompanied by relatives, she waves the flag to symbolically commemorate the heroic struggle undertaken two centuries before to achieve the ideals of freedom and independence from Spain.
Thereafter, the documentary seeks, through testimonies by locals, among them artists and real estate agents, the remnants of those ideals that put San Miguel at the heart of the Independence movement. Valdez explores the city through an anthropological approach and with the camera as close to the facts as possible, in order to generate a historical testament.
The filmmaker, who graduated from the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (University Center for Film Studies), shows in 109 minutes the discontent of a certain sector of the population, who are opponents of the permits granted to investors to change the land use of protected areas and ecological areas for urban development and housing.
The affected residents, facing the camera, denounce the irregularities committed by the authorities of San Miguel de Allende to facilitate construction permits. They are not opposed to development, but rather they disagree with the lack of planning and the dishonesty of the authorities, who, according to them, in one way or another keep approving more wrong projects.
For example, one interviewee commented: “It will be impossible to supply water to the entire population. For many years the water service has made hotels and tourist spots a priority, and we residents constantly lack this service. It is difficult to imagine how they will carry water to all the homes they say they will build.”
The documentary speaks wistfully of a San Miguel de Allende of the past, filled with rivers, streams and springs, rich in traditions, loyal to its customs and cultural values. The film also explores the influences from foreigners residing here, who have reactivated the economy.
Searching for answers, the director strikes up a conversation with the image of Allende in buildings in the city and questions how expensive it is to live in this area, the ambition of certain authorities, speculation in the real estate market and development risks.
“200 años después is a nonfiction film that takes risks. My purpose is not to entertain film dilettantes and offer spectacular special effects, or make a consumer product for the mass film market, but to provide a research document that will be a benchmark for understanding the contemporary history of Mexico,” said Valdez.
Currently, 200 años después is being shown only in movie theaters in Mexico City.