A Massacre Foretold
Documentary / English, Spanish & Tzotzil
The shocking story of a hidden tragedy.
In the mid-1990s, Mexico was riven by the Chiapas Rebellion, an uprising associated with the Zapatista movement. One of the most troubling and infamous events of the era was the massacre, at Acteal, of a group of unarmed villagers, members of pacifist organisation Las Abejas (The Bees) – supporters of the revolutionary movement who had renounced the Zapatistas’ violent methods. Scottish documentary maker Nick Higgins was in Mexico at the time of the massacre, and a decade on brings us a compelling, nuanced film about those events, using a mixture of his own contemporaneous footage and interview material gathered more recently.
Higgins strikes a fine balance between factual reportage and human story-telling. Formally, it’s a careful piece of cinema: he bookends the story of the events leading up to the massacre with the same scene of the anguished villagers shortly before their deaths, huddled in their mountainous hide-away. After the story builds back to this repeated scene – a striking centrepiece – the film moves on to explore some of the fall-out from the event. The thoughtful way Higgins structures the back-story helps make the obscure history of these events more accessible to a lay audience.
Higgins’ expertise shines with especial force in the gloomy scenes of the villagers fleeing through a fog-soaked early morning a few weeks before their deaths. Through careful observation – particularly in his canny choice to film his subjects’ trembling hands at least as much as their faces – Higgins is able to build a deep and atmospheric sense of terror. Atmosphere is a strong point throughout the film: Higgins beds his more informative scenes amongst thoughtfully composed landscape and establishing shots, most of which – an empty road winding through the jungle; a front door swinging vacantly – convey an eerie sense of absence. The emotional impact of the history Higgins recounts is all the greater for the care he takes in developing this rich sense of place.
Notwithstanding the senseless horror of the events it recounts, A Massacre Foretold is not a wholly despairing film. Even as the filmmaker dissects the grief of one of the few survivors, for instance – a young woman who lost her whole family in the massacre – he’s careful to include the sounds of normal life: some chickens clucking, and the squeals of children playing some game, off-camera. This is a haunting look at a poorly known episode in Mexico’s recent past, from a filmmaker of considerable sensitivity.
UK (Scotland) & Mexico/2006
Spanish dialogue with English subtitles
Colour/Digibeta/16 x 9 Full Height Anamorphic (FHA)/13 min
A poetic montage of urban landscapes, soundtracked with the actual confession of one of the senior paramilitaries involved in organising the massacre at Acteal
Director: Nick Higgins Producer: Nick Higgins Executive Producer: Noe Mendelle, Julia Caithness Editor: Tadhg O'Sullivan DoP: Alex Feston, Carlos Valdes Sound: Marcelo de Oliviera, Hector Ramirez, John Cobban Music: Andrew Cruickshank, Greg Lawson
Production Company: Lansdowne Productions, 35 Lansdowne Crescent, Glasgow, G20 6NH, Scotland, UK. tel: 0141 334 2480
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