Chihuahua, Mexico-born director Alejandra Sánchez fuses fact and fiction in her first narrative feature, Seguir Viviendo (Go On Living), screening March 7 at #VIWIFF2015.
Striking monochromatic scenes and a changing geographical landscape that parallels the mood of the three characters, make for a haunting and thrilling road-movie.
The film tells the story of two young teenagers, Jade and Kaleb, who lose their mother to gang violence and have to flee the only home they’ve ever known. A journalist reluctantly agrees to take them on the long drive to Mexico City, where they will catch a flight to Vancouver. On the road, sharing their remembered loss and encountering current fears, their wounds begin to heal and an unlikely new family emerges.
What’s unique about this story is the fact that this tragedy really happened to the two young actors, who play themselves. Sánchez decided to tell this particular story because of a real life attack on the activist grandmother of Jade and Kaleb in 2012.
Moreover, the children’s mother was activist Lilia Alejandra García, who was abducted, raped, tortured and murdered in Ciudad Juárez in 2001. Lilia García belonged to May Our Daughters Return Home, an activist organization that calls on the government and police to take action against the people who carry out attacks with seeming impunity.
“I wrote a story with real-life parts and parts of fiction,” says Sánchez. “This film exposes some of the social issues in a country that hurts its people. The format of a road movie allows the audience to glimpse inside a very intimate story.”
Jade and Kaleb García portray themselves as two children running away from death threats after their mother is shot. Actor Nora Huerta stars as a journalist who has also faced tragedy with the loss of her son. She takes on the role of caretaker along their journey to Mexico City.
Travelling along a narrow, lonely highway under constant threat of kidnapping, violence and possible death, the three characters soon become like family.
The vast silence of the characters and the desert geography portrays the emotionally painful reality of their lives. The gorgeous cinematography and colour change with the mood of the three characters throughout the film. Composer Tareke Ortiz’s soundscape is urgent and spacious, juxtaposed with the sometimes claustrophobic feel inside the vehicle.
“We shot in Chihuahua, Veracruz and Mexico City, I wanted to see how the change of mood of characters went with the landscape,” Sánchez says. “This is a story of the emotional scars of three human beings who realize that what separated them initially would be what unites them.”
She adds it was not easy to direct lay actors. “I think it was a hard experience but positive. It was a powerful experience that allowed them to talk and express emotions and accommodate their feelings,” she says.
An intimate portrayal of the violence and fear people (especially women) face living in Ciudad Juárez, one of the world’s most dangerous cities, Go On Living is also a story about those who are brave enough to expose the ugly truths behind the violence.
Ciudad Juárez is a major point of entry into the U.S. for all of central northern Mexico and controlled by gangs and drug-cartels. It is also home to three hundred maquiladoras (sweatshops) where Mexicans work for low wages, to make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves. The Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy writes that “Mexico’s war does not only belong to the postpolitical, postmoral world. It belongs to the world of belligerent hyper-materialism, in which the only ideology left – which the leaders of “legitimate” politics, business and banking preach by example – is greed.”
Seguir Viviendo is an extension of Sánchez’s feature documentary film Baio Juárez: La ciudad devorando a sus hijas (The City that Devours its Daughters – 2006) with a similar focus: the hundreds of women murdered and kidnapped in Ciudad, Chihuahua.
The film explores feelings of uncertainty, loneliness, and vulnerability, yet hope for a better future in a place where average people are expendable and those in power spiral toward hatred, greed and violence.
By Tanya Hill
Tanya Hill is a writer and editor for print, film and audio productions. She lives in Vancouver. and tweets as @CalderHill.
Go On Living plays at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, on March 7 at 3:30 PM. The film is preceded by two Mexican shorts, Ramona by Giovanna Zacarías and Farewell (La Despedida) by Yanet Pantoja Neri and followed by a panel discussion.
For tickets, click here.