Loteria Films is an award winning Bay Area film company founded by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway. Their most recent project is the feature-length documentary, El Poeta. In this moving documentary, they utilize the story of Javier Sicilia, world acclaimed poet, to discuss the brutal ramifications of the drug war.
Sicilia’s son was murdered with six of his friends in Cuernavaca, Morelos. This grotesque act spurred him to form the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, leading to a reunion with then President Felipe Calderón, a Caravan for Peace in Mexico and the United States.
During my interview with Kelly, we discussed the general theme Loteria Films has focused on and how that relates to the El Poeta project; specifically, their focus on the police state, racial justice, politics, and power.
Andrew: What has the focus of Loteria Films been with documentaries such as Better This World?
Kelly: All of our work has to do with the intersection of race, power and politics… we are committed to telling stories that we think are touching on the crucial issues of our time. In our last film, Better This World, we looked at the post-9/11 landscape, the surveillance culture, and what that meant for civil liberties particularly for young activists.
Our film, The Return, now in post production, looks at a historic sentencing reform. A primary area of focus for us is how to shed light on the injustices of and misinformation around the American criminal justice system. People need to understand those who are actually behind bars in the United States, and the humanity of that population.
And within that constellation of forces at play comes El Poeta. Javier Sicilia story and our story in the United States are very interconnected, and for us it was just a different angle on the body of work we are really committed to.
And within that constellation of forces at play comes El Poeta, Javier Sicilia, and his fight to bring attention to the international War on Drugs. Mexico’s story and our story in the United States are deeply interconnected, and for us this story was a different angle on the subject matter we are drawn to – an international story through a charismatic poet’s lens.
Andrew: So, it was by already working on these questions that y’all sought out the Sicilia story?
Kelly: Well, my film partner Katie Galloway and I both read about Sicilia in the New York Times, actually. We thought his story was incredibly moving. We knew what was happening in Mexico, and we had been following the tragedies. So, when we heard his story we thought it was a strong vehicle to explore some of the bigger ideas that his movement was discussing. It was our way in.
Andrew: How were y’all able to get the footage from the initial parts of the movement?
Kelly: We collaborated with EmergenciaMX, a collaborative of passionate activists, video journalists, and dedicated reporters who were in Mexico and in close proximity to Sicila and were incredibly dedicated to the story. They shot hundreds of hours of footage – much at low res and always on the go. Much of the film is made up of their footage of the unfolding story in Mexico.
They were close with Sicilia from the beginning of the movement, and when we approached Sicilia to do the story and began to do our research we connected with them, sharing resources along the way. They really wanted this story told, but they weren’t in a position to edit the material – they were doing daily reporting. They had done a lot of short pieces that were very powerful during the Mexican caravans as they unfolded, and we drew on much of their work in our collaboration to make the feature film. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Andrew: What about other footage in Mexico, like in the Cathedral in Cuernavaca?
Kelly: Ya, that was Loteria. We shot the US caravan, and the interviews with Javier, the main subject matter, in Cuernavaca.
Andrew: Thanks for giving me your time to discuss the film further. I think it is important to show how documentaries can play a role in struggles for justice.
Kelly: Thanks for bringing attention to the film. You know, his caravan didn’t resonate as loudly as we hoped it would in the US. Hopefully the film in some way can spread his message on in some small way.
Andrew: One last thing that came to me when you said that. Could you elaborate on the connection between Mexico’s drug war and the recent black uprisings against police brutality?
Kelly: Ya, really it is the legacy of the US & Mexican drug war policies – the criminalization of drug addiction has been devastating to families and communities throughout the United States. And obviously, the drug trade has been also been devastating to so much of the Mexican population. But it’s not just about drug use, or drug sales. It goes beyond that to much larger systemic issues revolving around poverty and lack of opportunities on both sides of the boarder. We really think it is time for people to examine the criminalization of drug addiction. Is that really a healthy way to manage a public health crisis.
Andrew: Thank you for that. I think it is a very important part of the documentary that y’all aired, the connection between the two countries and the drug war. It is important for people to recognize that.
Watch El Poeta at: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365444227/
Kelly Duane de la Vega is a filmmaker. Check out Loteria Films work at www.loteriafilms.com
Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.