E-mail us: amdb@ucalgary.ca
Image from Las Calles Negras [The black streets] (directed by Felipe Tirado, 1971)
Image from Las Calles Negras [The black streets] (Felipe Tirado)

The 1970s in Mexico saw the rise of an amateur film movement that was inspired by counterculture, politics and recent historical events, especially the massacre of students in Tlatelolco in 1968, which “inherited rebellion” to many artists (Vázquez Mantecón 48). The versatility of the Super 8 format and the capacity to transport cameras in an easier and more economical way, allowed many amateur filmmakers to find an outlet for audiovisual narrative and experimentation. The Mexican Super 8 movement brought together painters, writers, poets, filmmakers and artists of the most diverse backgrounds, leading to the creation of a large number of films that reflected a desire to create a free, independent cinema.

Even though experimental amateur cinema had existed in Mexico since the sixties, it wasn’t until the First Independent National Film Contest in 1970, that the Super 8 movement was born and saw its prime amongst the discussion of counterculture and art: “Super 8 film was consciously countercultural, since it lacked official resources and the support of the prestigious intellectuals of the time. Supereighters usually arranged for their own channels of diffusion” (Vázquez Mantecón 23).

For many groups of artists, the Super 8 format offered a tangible way of creating a truly independent cinema. For example, the Ocho milímetros contra ocho millones 1 [Eight millimeters against eight millions] manifesto –signed by actors and filmmakers like Alfredo Gurrola, Felipe Tirado and David Celestinos– claimed that an 8 mm film represented “true values and honest critique to a system, with virtues and flaws” and the Marginal Cinema Cooperative worked in a collective manner to make films and create their own distribution channels (Méndez, 1999).

Image from Nosotros sí existimos [We do exist]
Image from Nosotros sí existimos [We do exist] (Marginal Cinema Cooperative, 1972)

Filmmakers like Sergio García and other members of the Experimental Film Workshop also tried to acknowledge the importance of the message and film technique in Super 8 films, while criticizing the group formed by Arturo Ripstein and Felipe Cazals for using the notion of independent cinema to benefit themselves. In his text Hacia un 4to cine (Towards a fourth cinema), Sergio García claimed that 8 mm films were obligated to be political, social and educational, and that they should avoid being simple political pamphlets. Although it is clear that the varied groups of Super 8 filmmakers did not always see eye to eye in many of their ideas, they were connected by their conviction that the Super 8 format was a medium permitting a more free practice of filmmaking, and by the notion of creating a different cinema “against the guidelines of the big cinema industry” (Vázquez Mantecón, 21).

The films that received awards in the First Independent National Film Contest represent accurately the countercultural and political spirit of Mexican Super 8 production. They also show the great influence that the 1968 Student Movement and the massacre against students had among artists: “Not even two years had passed from 68 [...] And somehow we all had a position about it. And when they gave us the little camera, the possibility not just of filming it, but of having it exhibited, that’s what motivated us the most” (Alfredo Gurrola in Vázquez Mantecón 48). One of the award-winning films, Mi casa de altos techos [My house of high ceilings] (1970) by David Celestinos, is quite iconic in regards to the discussion around counterculture and politics. Its two main characters are artists, one concerned with social topics and the other concerned with existentialism, the nature of love and art, and memories of the political repression of 1968 (Vázquez Mantecón 64). This duality shows the many aspects of politics and culture that surrounded the creation of Super 8 films in Mexico.

Image from Mi casa de altos techos [My House of High Ceilings] (directed by David Celestinos, 1970)
Image from Mi casa de altos techos [My House of High Ceilings] (David Celestinos, 1970)

Alfredo Gurrola’s El Tercer Suspiro [The third sigh] (1970) also expresses a common concern of artists at the time: persecution. Its main character is trapped in a car with a politician, a military man and a business man that have him at gunpoint while he has several dreams in which, in a Sisyphus-like manner, he tries to escape only to find his attempts frustrated when he is about to succeed. The dreamlike aesthetic style of the film not only shows the political aspects of youth problems in Mexico, it also shows how close Super 8 filmmakers were to experimental cinema that transgressed mainstream forms of filmmaking.

Other award-winning films of the First Independent National Film Contest showed the political and countercultural tone of the Super 8 movement in Mexico. El Padre o Why? [The father or Why?] (1970) was concerned with a critique of the bourgeoisie and inequality, while Sergio García’s El fin [The end] (1970) dealt with how youth’s freedom was limited by capitalism and nationalism, which prevented young people from being in contact with nature and their true selves.

Image from El Fin [The end] (directed by Sergio García, 1970)
Image from El Fin [The end] (Sergio García, 1970)

The seventies in Mexico were marked by a diverse approach to art and culture. From its origins in independent film contests, the Super 8 movement represented a fundamental expression of counterculture in Mexico, committed to contributing a political perspective usually eluded by mainstream media and commercial cinema. Supereighters set out to find freedom of speech through the use of an accessible filmmaking format that in time would allow for a high volume of political cinema and experimental film production, becoming an important influence for independent Mexican cinema.

NOTES

1. The following is a translation of the Ocho milímetros contra ocho millones [Eight millimeters against eight millions] manifesto:

We want to remark to the general public opinion that the following persons: Felipe Cazals, Arturo Ripstein, Paul Leduc, Rafael Castañedo, Eduardo Maldonado, Gustavo Alatriste, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo and the spokesmen Emilio García Riera, David Ramón, Tomás Pérez Turrent and Fernando Gou, taking advantage of the word “INDEPENDENT” for commercial and promotional uses, are going to the farther region of Mexico to have an encounter that will be a dialogue with silent voices, amplified by their official spokesmen.

We reply to this maneuver with the following declaration of principles:

That someone cannot be called an independent filmmaker if he or she produces a film of more than 10 million pesos, since this implies being subject to all the existent norms of censorship, and accepting entirely the systems that we have criticized through this cinema.

A super 8 film, seen by any person with honest mental lucidity, represents the values, the real critique that can be done about a system, which has virtues and flaws; meaning that the price of a film is not correspondent with its quality, since with the twelve million spent on the film Zapata, for example, we could have made 10 thousand super 8 films that would represent our entire historical, social and artistic context.

We want to remark, once and for all, that the new Mexican cinema movement was created on May 15 1970, with the First National Independent Cinema Contest Luis Buñuel, and that those who preserve or are working in the same spirit, may represent in a valid manner the spirit of critical independence in spite of the ideological differences that have confronted cooperatives and groups of independent cinema.

We also would like to remark that we will keep on working to get exhibition channels, from the most humble to the most advanced ones but always with a clear idea that film language must be in service of collectivities and that we will continue to criticize the flaws and mistakes of the systems, as well as expressing the positive things that happen.

Finally, we are aware that the movement that is growing here in Mexico as a form of the expressive language of independent cinema, is the most dynamic and has national characteristics with no match in other countries, at least up to this moment in the current world status of film production.

Signed by:

ALFREDO GURROLA (filmmaker)

ALEJANDRO CUADROS (photographer)

DAVID CELESTINOS (filmmaker)

JORGE SEQUEIROS (filmmaker)

SERGIO GARCÍA (filmmaker)

EDUARDO ESCANDÓN ((filmmaker)

LEOPOLDO HERNÁNDEZ (filmmaker)

BERTHA FERRER (critic)

JUAN NÚÑEZ (filmmaker)

GABRIELA SALAS (actress)

NINO GASTEASORO (filmmaker)

IGNACIO LUNA (actor)

MARÍA EUGENIA ANAYA (filmmaker)

RUBÉN ISLAS (actor)

TERESA TAPIA (filmmaker)

PEDRO SAN NICOLÁS (camera man)

LIGIA ESCALANTE (actress and dancer)

MIGUEL HUERTA (filmmaker)

JAVIER ESPINOSA (actor)

ROCÍO BARRIOS (filmmaker)

RICARDO TIRADO (actor)

ANTONIO DOMÍNGUEZ (photographer)

NORMA FIGUEROA (actress)

ALFREDO ZAMARRIPA (filmmaker)

SERGIO ARROYABE (actor)

LUIS ALBERTO TREJO (filmmaker)

HUGO GARCÍA (musician)

ELENA ZETINA (actress)

GILBERTO VERDUZCO (painter)

SAMUEL CIENFUEGOS (actor)

MARIL ZETINA (sociologist, filmmaker)

TINA FRENCH (actress)

JESÚS MENDOZA (lighting artist)

VERÓNICA HERNÁNDEZ (actress)

EFRAÍN BERMÚDEZ (filmmaker)

FELIPE TIRADO (filmmaker)

SOURCES:

Garcia, Sergio. “Towards a Fourth Cinema.” Wide Angle, vol. 21 no. 3, 1999, pp. 70-175. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/wan.2003.0005

Gurrola, Alfredo et al. “Manifiesto: 8 milimetros contra 8 millones.” Wide Angle, vol. 21 no. 3, 1999, pp. 36-41. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/wan.2003.0002

Vázquez Mantecón, Álvaro. El Cine Super 8 en México 1970-1989 . Filmoteca UNAM, 2012.