“Somehow we survive, and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither,” wrote Dennis Brutus, the late, great South African poet about his beloved homeland during the dark days of apartheid.
Brutus’ words came to me Friday evening after Dunreith and I attended the screening of two short and one long film at Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
The films were part of the city’s first-ever CineMigrante, an eight-day film festival dedicated to showing the lives and experiences of migrants around the globe. Launched in Argentina, the festival is spreading to Latin American nations. The Santiago rendition draws on the best films from the Argentine showings from the past three years.
In all, dozens of movies about from African, Central and South America and Europe will be shown at three venues across the city. CineMigrante also has a series of panels about issues involving migrants.
A number of the movies deal with issues happening now in Chile, and the ones we saw were set in different parts of Mexico.
The first, 72, is Jorge Michel Grau’s fictional rendering of a 2010 massacre of migrants by the Zetas. The films shows in unflinching detail the victims’ final minutes, and, in the case of two of them, an evocation of their afterlife. Blindfolded, their hands tied behind their back, bound to another migrant and hearing the sounds of point-blank murder all around them, the largely anonymous characters are going through an unspeakable ending to their lives.
Amidst the infernal circumstances, a couple calls out to each other.
Roberto? A woman calls.
Olga? He answers.
Roberto lurches toward his love-a move that at first elicits a blow from a rifle, and, a minute later, a fatal shot.
Recognizing Olga’s terror, the man who is tied to Roberto continues to move him toward her and starts to talking to her in the voice of her just murdered lover.
I’m here, he says. Everything’s fine. We’re going to be together.
This gesture of compassion calms Olga, who appears without her blindfold and looks with equal sensitivity at the man just before she is killed.
Grau then shows both characters submerged and sinking underwater, volumes of bubbles issuing forth from their mouths, connecting for just an instant before Grau shows up the final grim and haunting image of the murdered man face down on the ground.
El Tren de Las Moscas, a Spanish documentary, deals with the daily generosity displayed by las patronas, a group of women in Amatlán, Veracruz who try to keep migrants alive.
Their vehicle: distributing the 200 meals of rice and beans and dozen of bottles of water to the Mexican and Central Americans passing by on trains heading north as they pursue “El Sueño Americano,” or the American Dream.
The work is neither safe nor easy.
El Tren shows the women cooking and packing the food in a 21st century version of the Model-T assembly line.
Once their goods are ready, they venture as close as possible to the track that carries the migrants, then pass out the food and water as fast as they can.
Sometimes the connection is not made.
Sometimes the patronas are knocked backwards, or fall to the ground.
The women will never meet the people they are helping.
But they know their aspirations and their suffering, and they hear the calls of gratitude.
The women also believe from their faith that they consider the migrants to be people who are worthy of dignity and respect.
Those qualities are in scarce supply, especially for women, throughout the more than 5,000-mile journey from Central America through Mexico to its northern border with the United States.
Maria en Tierra de Nadie, Marcela Zamora Chamorro’s 86-minute film, tells that harrowing story through the eyes of three women.
One of the women leaves her home in search of her daughter, who had not been in touch with her mother for years after she ventured north.
The mother, who travels with a group of parents in the same situation, carries a picture of her daughter with her.
The other group members also carried pictures of their disappeared loved ones, and hold vigils, advocate with local officials, and carry a large sign that say, ”¿Dónde están?” Where are they?
If their daughters have met the fate of many of the other women we meet in the film, they have lost limbs, been forced into prostitution, kidnapped by the Zetas, sexually assaulted or murdered.
Martha and Sandra are the other two women who are the focus of the film both are raped after they leave abusive husbands and seek a better future for their families.
After reaching a rare safe spot for migrants, Sandra despairs of being able to raise the $3,000 necessary to cross the border.
Instead, she decides to set off on her own.
Martha bursts into tears and leaves the room, unable to watch the friend with whom she has endured so much walk off to almost certain doom.
As the film ends, we learn that the filmmakers have been unable to locate Sandra since 2009.
Although difficult to watch, the movies are a powerful reminder of the grinding conditions that propel women to leave their homes and families, the incessant peril they experience along the way and those moments, people and places-a compassionate glance before an inevitable assassination, a mother’s ceaseless search for her daughter, the exchange of a bags of rice and beans are just three-that are the tenderness that survives amidst unimaginable brutality.
The festival concludes Wednesday.