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Sarah Rich, 16 May 06

Maquilapolis.jpg A recurring theme around here is the use of citizen-based, participatory media as a tool for documenting injustice, abuse, and the often hidden realities of underserved or remotely-located populations. We were recently pointed toward Maquilapolis, a new documentary about (and by) a group of women in Tijuana who work in some of the numerous assembly factories - maquiladoras - that dot the U.S.-Mexico border.

The film meets women who are each dealing with the hardships of environmental toxins, labor rights abuse, infrastructure and housing issues, and women's rights. MAQUILAPOLIS approaches the workers as experts who can provide us with keys to our common future, inviting them to co-author their own story on videotape.
MAQUILAPOLIS is being created through a collaborative storytelling process which allows the characters in the film to have a voice in their own representation. Over a six-week period the producers of MAQUILAPOLIS conducted a video workshop in Tijuana, training a group of promotoras (community-based activists) to use digital video cameras. The workshop covered filming techniques, sound recording, and ways to tell a story using the documentary medium. Participants made intimate video diaries and worked in teams to document their lives and their stories. MAQUILAPOLIS' final incarnation will incorporate footage recorded during the workshop and beyond, as the women continue to use their filmmaking skills and donated cameras to record the world they see around them.

Bryan Finoki of Subtopia and Archinect wrote a really fantastic piece at Subtopia on the film, and the layers of related issues surrounding it. He says:

With all the vitriolic attention on immigration spit out in the media these days, distorted by gross exaggerations of the border being the number one threat to U.S. national security, the time for a genuine depiction of US/Mexico border geopolitics -- made (and told) by the people central to the confluence of hardships there -- is crucial to our understanding of why, and how, we should seriously consider addressing the region.
(cont'd) In short, the hype over how the maquiladoras were going to boost the Mexican economy has hardly panned out, nor has this industry at all helped to alleviate the pressure of illegal immigration to the United States. In the last 20 years the US/Mexico border has been the fastest growing population of any border region anywhere in the world. There are 12 million illegal immigrants estimated living through out the U.S., but the numbers also suggest approximately 12 million people have migrated to the southern border in that same time, driven by an explosion in consumer goods manufacturing and import/export markets, which have made the 2000 mile stretch the most densely populated geography between any neighboring First and Third world nations. An additional 10-15 million are predicted to crash the border zone by 2020.

The rest of Bryan's article is well worth the read. Maquilopolis is a product of collaborations between a Tijuana women's rights group called Grupo Factor X, filmmaker Vicky Funari, artist Sergio De La Torre, Global Exchange and the Environmental Health Coalition.

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The film was excellent. It was shown about two weeks ago in Toronto's documentary film festival "Hotdocs" ( as a part of the JOIN ME! - HOW TO START A REVOLUTION programme. The progamme featured "engaging contemporary documentaries profiling diverse peoples the world over, all of whom are committed to the implementation of political, social and civic change." Some spectactular films were shown in this category.

Posted by: Jeremy on 19 May 06



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