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Navigating porous boundaries

INTERVIEW! Berlinale Forum programmer James Lattimer sets the scene for Arsenal Kino’s current Mexican cinema season, Porous Boundaries: New Paths through Mexican Cinema, on through June 30.

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Berlinale Forum programmer James Lattimer sets the scene for Arsenal Kino’s current Mexican cinema season.

Porous Boundaries: New Paths through Mexican Cinema, continuing at Arsenal until June 30, shines a spotlight on some remarkable filmmakers who are as yet largely unknown to international audiences. We caught up with programmer James Lattimer to find out how this impressively bold season came to be.

What gave you the initial idea for the season? 

To some extent it emerged from my work on the Berlinale Forum, where I’ve become increasingly responsible for Latin American cinema. In the last few years, I’ve discovered a number of films that have really excited me, films that use new formal ideas to convey the complexity of life in Mexico. More than most other countries of its size, Mexico is often reduced to a few standard clichés – drug violence, cartels, corruption, poverty. Realising how fixed those ideas are and, now with the rise of Trump, how they’re being propagated more and more, it was important to me to try and draw attention to some alternative perspectives. 

Can you elaborate on the season title? What exactly do you mean by ‘porous boundaries’?

The title has several meanings. Firstly it’s to do with the boundaries between the centre of the country and the peripheries, and the boundaries between the individual federal states of Mexico. I’m trying to showcase a breadth of cinema which is representative of the whole country. You have films like Te prometo anarquía (I Promise You Anarchy) and Todo lo demás (Everything Else) set in Mexico City, which attempt to explore the country from that urban centre. Then there’s Navajazo, which explores life in Tijuana. And there are two films from Oaxaca – Los Ausentes and Pacifico

But equally the title refers to the boundary between the US and Mexico. One of the first things that you associate with Mexico right now is of course Trump and his wall. It’s a boundary that up until now has been relatively porous, but there’s a concerted effort being made to stop that. Life on the border is depicted in Santa Teresa y otras historias, which explores the murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez. And Navajazo (photo) portrays the border region as a strange in-between zone, both in terms of culture and the forms used to depict it. It’s a film where you can never be sure whether what you’re seeing is real or performed.

Do you feel that Berlin audiences are being presented with enough opportunities to make new cinematic discoveries?

Well I might be a bit biased, but I think Arsenal has done a tremendous job in recent years! The team has really worked hard to build audiences and to turn it into the kind of place where people can rely on the programming to stimulate and challenge them. They offer plenty of accessible ways into cultural cinema, such as their recent Tim Burton retrospective or their Hong Kong season this summer. And then, with a series like this, you can take people who are open to a range of cinematic forms and expose them to new things, which aren’t always so straightforward. 

Do you have any other personal favourites that are still yet to screen? 

Las Letras (The Letters) by Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez, is a film that for me exemplifies a lot of the ideas in the series. It’s an experimental documentary that explores the true-life case of a professor of indigenous origin who was wrongly accused of the murder of four policemen. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from watching the film! It explores that territory and landscape as a way of trying to make you feel the impact of the crime, without necessarily understanding it on a factual or literal level. Navajazo won a major award at Locarno in 2014, and it’s screening in Berlin for the first time. It’s a wild, provocative film about life on the margins, which very deliberately tries to push certain buttons and make you think about how you engage with Mexico. And Ruinas tu reino, by 20-year-old director Pablo Escoto, is a beautiful film about a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico, and all  the associations that go with life at sea and life on the shore.

Porous Boundaries: New Paths through Mexican Cinema, Jun 2-30 | Arsenal, Mitte