Girl Power in the new Mexican Cinema
Artemio is the story of a 9-year-old boy who was born in the United States but, through some twist of fate, is now in El Cacalote, his mother Coco’s birthplace in the State of Guerrero. This is the thesis project and feature debut of director Sandra Luz Barroso, a Mexican anthropologist who, due to a research project from 10 years back, met Doña Catalina, a dancer and very important figure in La Costa Chica in the afro section of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Artemio’s great grandmother.
During her anthropological research, Sandra made a documentary about Catalina, who passed away in 2008. She later began her film studies at CCC in Mexico City. Sandra says that her experiences with this great woman lead her to think about how to make a movie about her life, but it wasn’t until the fifth year of her studies that she looked at documentary filmmaking, so she went back to La Costa Chica with one goal in mind: make a movie about afro women from that area with a direct line to Doña Catalina; this is how Sandra would tell the story about this character’s transcendence.
What happened during Sandra’s scouting sessions, in which she was accompanied by her cinematographer Bruno Santamaría, was that they met Coco, Catalina’s granddaughter, and naturally Artemio. Sandra immediately realized that Coco had all the characteristics she wanted to portray in an afro woman: strong, independent, sexy and wonderful. And so, Sandra and her team, four people in total, developed a narrative around this woman’s life and that in turn resulted in a film about this 9-year-old dreamer. Sandra did not expect that and it became a beautiful and very moving motion picture that was still able to capture female power in our national and international screens.
What’s the message you want to transmit through Artemio?
It’s a portrait. It can have many interpretations, but I think the correct one for me is that in the current social and political context in both the United States and Mexico, it’s a look at immigration through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy. That’s not something common in cinema and in a country with so many bi-national families like ours, it’s very moving to see it through a child’s eyes. The most important moment is a phone call he has with his big sister Sherlyn; that’s the climax and that’s where I discovered that the film was about him.
What was it like to work with him?
We became friends before we started working together. We had to earn his trust as well as Coco’s, seeing how we were practically living with them for 15 days and team was very empathetic toward Artemio. We played pinball with him and we wound up being kids ourselves, kneeling down to his level and by the end of the shoot or half-way through it more or less, when he got the call, it was so much more about being there with him in every sense of the word, not just through a camera.
We see the topic of immigration set up with a different point of view. Why did you decide to do it like that?
It actually has to do with me not seeking the topic of immigration. I intended to paint a portrait of women of African descent, these women from the coast that I was fascinated by. The topic of immigration came about because they are a bi-national family. Artemio was born in the United States, his father and siblings are there and this all came about because Coco went back to her hometown. That’s the context and it encompasses something that I find very interesting, which is the mother-son relationship. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but in its current environment, the topic of immigration propels the film forward in that sense.
As an anthropologist and filmmaker, how would you define the importance of this relationship?
My previous experience as an anthropologist absolutely influences the kind of cinema I love and want to make. I’ve been working at La Costa Chica for a little more than 10 years and having had my previous experience as an anthropologist makes this job a 13-day shoot with many years of building bonds with the people who live there behind it and that makes it so much easier to walk in there with a camera.