Adventures in Jalisco, Mexico: Site + Cycle and Filmmaking

It has been a little over a month since I got back from an incredible, three-week trip to Mexico, yet the smells, sights and sounds of the Mexican landscapes are still fresh on my mind.

It all started in December 2017 when I stumbled upon an opportunity I couldn’t refuse—the chance of spending two weeks in an artist residency making handmade films in rural Mexico, specifically in beautiful San Isidro Mazatepec in the state of Jalisco.

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Organized by the Toronto-based film collective F4A (Film for Artists), the annual Site + Cycle residency project focuses on making analog films that explore the histories, topographies and vegetation of the Toronto Islands. However, this year things were different in that the residency would take place in Mexico during the month of February, and not June. The residency was hosted at Anima Casa Rural, a grassroots organization that aims at creating ecological alternatives and sustainable ways of life through permaculture, education and cultural exchange. In addition, the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto and Mexico City’s own artist-run film collective Laboratorio Experimental de Cine, lent filmmaking equipment, including a 16mm projector to make this experience possible.

I submitted an application along with a few sample films for consideration into the residency and once accepted, I dusted off my Bolex 16mm as well as one of my Super 8 cameras and started packing my bags. The experience, as I suspected, would become one of the most incredible journeys I’ve ever embarked on.  

Once I landed in Guadalajara, I couldn’t wait to meet the other filmmakers in the program and learn from them as much as possible. Within hours of meeting everyone, we hit the ground running and grabbed our Super 8 cameras (I, of course left my film cartridge in the house I stayed in) and ventured out of the farm to experience a Charreada—the Mexican Rodeo—in San Isidro Mazatepec. Considered a “living history” and highlighted in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO, the rodeo is a spectacle not to be missed.

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We went on several gorgeous hikes and day trips that introduced us to the varied terrains of Jalisco, often geeking out over plants, birds, soils and ancient ruins. We made films along the way that explored the landscape of Jalisco.

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One of those excursions we went on was to Guachimontones in the town of Teuchitlan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guachimontones is a Mesoamerican archaeological site that dates from 300 BCE – 900 CE. The city is a complex of circular stepped pyramids situated in the middle of other circular foundations. According to archaeologists, it was home to 40,000 people at one point, and it wasn’t until the late sixties when the site began to be excavated by archaeologist Phil Weigand and art historian Acelia Garcia de Weigand. While at Guachimontones, I managed to shoot a short Super 8 film that focused on the structures and the surrounding landscape of this incredible site.

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Most of our days at Anima Casa Rural were spent shooting 16mm films and experimenting with various non-toxic, plant-based developers using local plants grown at Anima’s garden and farm. As we shot films, we picked plants that were high in phenols such as Mexican sage, eucalyptus, lavender, banana leaves, calendula and other plants and flowers to make our developers. We also had several workshops including a film burial workshop as well as tinting and toning workshop where we used natural dyes to soak film in. 

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The last week of the residency was the most intense given the many challenges presented to us (scarce water, limited equipment and film), but we managed to work collaboratively and uplift each other in times of disappointment. I made what I then considered seven stand-alone films and screened them alongside the other participants’ work on the rooftop of Galeria Daniel Diaz in the city of Guadalajara. Under the stars, we looked at many of the films we made during the two weeks in San Isidro Mazatepec and said our goodbyes.

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For more photos of my trip to Mexico, check out my @EvolvingCritic Instagram account as well as the #SiteandCycle2018 hashtag. Stay tuned for the second part of this blog post on my time in Guadalajara and Mexico City. 

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