Saturday, September 12, 2009

Backyard (El traspatio)

Based on true events, Backyard is a drama that focuses on the hundreds of unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The film has two main story lines; one follows Blanca Bravo (Ana de la Reguera), a police detective newly transferred to the city who is soon overwhelmed with cases; the other finds Juanita (Asur Zagada), who moves to the city from the country and joins her cousin working in the maquiladoras, or multinational manufacturing plants set up to take advantage of the cheap labour pool.

While Juanita takes advantage of her new-found freedom in the city, Bravo struggles against the indifference of a city and government more often that not resigned to the situation, and inevitably the lives of the two women intersect. People like Bravo and radio host Peralta (Joaquin Cosio) try to effect change, but find themselves in an impossible situation and are challenged to stop anything without sacrificing their own morals in the process.

Backyard is a powerful film that explores a number of the postulated theories and causes of the soaring crime rate without seeming unfocused. Crimes initially go unsolved, because of an undermanned, underfunded, and at times corrupt police force, and this leads criminals to believe they they can act with impunity. The government is reluctant to act for fear of jeopardizing foreign investment that is more than willing to move on to the next country with even cheaper labour. People's lives are reduced to a matter of how many cents per day they cost the companies. All this leads to a moral vacuum where regular people are emboldened to act how they want without fear of consequences, and women more often than not become the target.

The film doesn't take the easy way out and reduce the problem to a simple mystery or crime story; it's a challenging social, economic, and political problem as well, with no neat, tidy ending or resolution. While Bravo's storyline shows the institutional side, Juanita's reveals a very personal view of the same issues. Ana de la Reguera is very good as a professional who has a job to do in a very patriarchal organization and society, yet can't help but be moved as a woman to the situation around her.

Director Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro), and screenwriter Sabina Berman were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • Carrera was always interested in the story of the murders in Juarez, and had received many Hollywood scripts about it, but didn't like them. Berman had written the script about 10 years ago, but it took a long time to get the funding. Carrera found her script the most respectful way to treat this part of Mexican history. The only request he had was that the film be shot on location in the actual locations, which was a problem since Juarez is embroiled in a war between drug dealers.
  • Berman added that it was a very dangerous place to film, and they had to have the Mexican army and police guard the crew while they shot. They went to the governor of Chihuahua and said they were making the film no matter what, so it was up to him to give them protection or not.
  • Carrera says it is still a problem in Juarez, but is not restricted to there. At the end of the film they list crime statistics from around Mexico, Latin America, and even around the world.
  • Berman says it was more moving to make a drama rather than a documentary; difficult to figure out how to take actual events and arrange them to make them moving and human.
  • Carrera; movies are a visual memory for the audience; the film is a mixture of fiction and documentary; there are several very good documentaries of the topic already; they wanted to take this approach with Juanita's character, as the fiction gives a way of knowing better and loving better a character, so she is an actual person and not just a number.
  • Carrera said the film is not about violence against women in Juarez, it's about violence against women period.
  • An audience member noted the governor in the film talks like the actual governor of the time. Berman replied that the governor basically wrote his own text.
  • Carrera added that the governor in the film actually represents two real-life governors: Francisco Barrio (1992-1998) who is the current Mexican ambassador to Canada, and Patricio Martinez Garcia (1998-2004).
  • Berman thinks the fact that so much of the city is about money and producing things for less cost (and not just in Mexico, but in Asia), that it makes life cost so little; when it becomes about how much we can not spend on people, life becomes cheap.
  • Berman: in Mexico, the film is polemical; some believe they shouldn't be talking bad about Mexico, that they should be showing the funny, beautiful parts, or that a romantic story is nicer; other think they need this kind of cinema.
  • Berman usually does comedy. She took a comedic show to Juarez and afterwards met girls who told her what was going on, and was shocked and dreamt about it for a year and decided one should do what they can do; she started doing research, and what was shocking to her was the indifference to the phenomenon. The last version of the script focuses more on the silence in Juarez around the problem.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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