Past and present collide in this extraordinarily well-crafted documentary as award-winning filmmaker Natalia Almada (All Water Has A Perfect Memory) explores the life of her great-grandfather—General Plutarco Elías Calles, a revolutionary general who became president of Mexico in 1924. In his time, Calles was called “El Bolshevique” and “El Jefe Máximo,” and his legacy remains controversial.
Using audio recordings she inherited from her grandmother, El General's daughter, Almada examines the fascinating contradictions between personal and collective memory.
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Natalia Almada was born in Mexico. Her directing credits include All Water Has A Perfect Memory, an internationally-recognized experimental short, and Al Otro Lado, an award-winning feature documentary about immigration and drug trafficking. Almada’s work has screened at Sundance, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Biennial, as well as on ARTE and PBS. She is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow and has received support from Creative Capital, the Sundance Institute, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. She splits her time between Mexico and Brooklyn.
Screenings at MoMA - May 16 at 2 pm, May 21 at 7 pm. Click here for more info.
Premiere broadcast on P.O.V on July 20 at 10 pm. Click here for more info.
El General has screened at the following film festivals:
- Sundance Film Festival, Directing Award: US Documentary
- Cine Las Americas, Audience Award: Best Documentary Feature
- DOK Leipzig
- Los Angeles International Film Festival
- Seattle International Film Festival
- Montreal World Film Festival
- Guadalajara Film Festival
- Morelia International Film Festival
- Ambulante Film Festival
- Santiago Festival International de Cine (SANFIC)
- Encuentros del Otro Cine, Ecuador
- Festival International de Cine de Gijón
- Films from the South Film Festival
- San Diego Latino Film Festival
- Chicago Filmmakers
You can purchase a DVD of El General, here: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c763.shtml
You can also watch the trailer here:
I wake up at 5 AM. It is Election Day in Mexico. I drive from Los Angeles to Tijuana. The sun is rising over the 405 South. At 8:00AM I arrive in San Ysidro, park and walk across the bridge to the other side. It smells different. It is hotter. I am always amazed how the arbitrary wall has become part of nature’s subconscious.
I wait in a winding line for three hours to cast my vote, then start the trip back across the border - another eternal line in the hot sun. A man offers me a ride for $5.00. I can’t resist. I climb into a bus only a few meters from the checkpoint. It is hot as hell. It smells. Children are screaming. The bus doesn’t move and I wish I were still standing in line. The bearded man next to me turns to me and says, “You are not Mexican.” “Of course I am,” I reply. He insists that I am not. With pride I show him the brown ink stain on my thumb – proof that I have just voted. It has no effect. I can’t change his mind about my nationality and I have the familiar sensation that I do not belong to any place. I remember a passage from Isabel Allende’s book, My Invented Country: “I have been a pilgrim along more roads than I care to remember. From saying good-bye so often my roots have dried up, and I have had to grow others, which, lacking a geography to sink into, have taken hold in my memory.” And I realize that film is the memory I am wrapping my roots around.
The title of my first film, All Water Has a Perfect Memory, was inspired by a passage in a Toni Morrison essay in which she writes, “The Mississippi River is not flooding, it is remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” The film is about my sister who drowned when she was two years old and I was an infant. Through film, I created a visual memory of my sister, of whom I had no real memories and explored how my Mexican father and American mother faced the death of their child. Through my famiy’s recollections, I was interested in examining how the memories we fabricate are unique to our individual experience and perspective, making it nearly impossible to have a truly collective memory, especially within a bi-cultural family.
My second film, Al Otro Lado (The Other Side), looks at immigration and drug trafficking through the two hundred year-old tradition of corrido music. On my family’s cattle ranch in Sinaloa, I grew up listening to the cowboys and local fishermen talk about opium fields in the Sierra and their adventures across the border to work in the pisca. The films that I saw in the United States about immigration and drug trafficking, were always from an outsider’s perspective and approached the issues as moral dilemmas rather than economic realities. I felt a need to tell the story of how Mexican individuals, confronted with the reality of an economic crisis, are compelled to risk their lives in the hope for a better life. The film ultimately indicts the injustice of an economic system that allows people to die crossing the border, whilst simultaneously shedding light on the power of the human spirit to confront hardship and tragedy with humor, cultural heritage and grace. By putting a human face to these issues and using music to bridge the cultural divide, my hope is that my film gives a voice to the people most affected and least heard in this socio-political dilemma.
My most recent film, El General, is inspired by six hours of audiocassette recordings that my grandmother made about her life as daughter of Plutarco Elias Calles, a general in the Mexican Revolution and president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928. She wanted to write her father’s biography, but all that remains of that intention are the audio recordings that were handed to me, presumably so that I might finish what she left incomplete. The film moves between my grandmother’s fractured memories of her father, a contentious figure in Mexico’s history, and my present-day wanderings through Mexico City. The film is both a family memoir and a portrait of Mexico then and now. A woman in the film buying orange cempazuchil flowers for the Day of the Dead. She said, “We love the dead, but they are too expensive.” I have come to understand how she speaks for me and for Mexico.
To me, film is a tithe for memory, a cost I gratefully pay in order to actively make sense of the world. It is a way to find a language to express what I see and think. It is a way to question: How do we reconcile the contradictions between our personal family memories and our country’s collective memory? How is this memory and history fabricated? How do I reconcile my reality with my family history? How do I, a Mexican, understand Mexico today through a historical lens?
In the opening of the film Sans Soleil, the narrator says, “I do not know how those who do not film remember.” For me, making films is a way of remembering and creating a memory where one is absent or where one is needed for tomorrow. So while the three films which I’ve embarked on in the past eight years are all very different in content, form and structure, they are inspired by my curiosity to explore how the past defines who we are today and to create a visual memory that reflects my view of the world.
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