Mexico City

A retrospective of Robert Gardner’s films was held at DOCSDF, Mexico City, October 1-4, 2008. About this experience he writes “Few film festivals in my long acquaintance with these occasions has left me (the day after) more exhilarated or more confident that the future of actuality filmmaking is in the hands of inspired and intelligent young men and women. It could be noted that Margaret Mead once suggested that we should not underestimate the possibility that a small group of inspired young people can change the world. I am hoping my encounter with such people in Mexico will prove her right.”

October 1: Press conference at the historic Cine Lido in La Condesa
Opened in 1942 and undergoing a series of changes over the past six decades, this building is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture married with Modern design. It was abandoned in the early 1990s, and recently re-opened as Centro Cultural Bella Época. It was expanded to house the Rosario Castellanos bookstore and art gallery, as well as the theatre. The gallery contained a small exhibition of guache paintings, The Story of the Rabbit and Coyote, by luminary Mexican artist Francisco Toledo. In the theatre our host Antonio Zirión and festival director Inti Cordera of DOCSDF coordinated the press conference with Robert Gardner, which proved to be a lively Q&A centering on his notions of filmmaking, anthropology, and politics.

Antonio Zirión

taking notes

press conference

an interview

The following day La Jornada and Excelsior published articles about Gardner and his work. It quickly became apparent that his ongoing project about Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz was of great interest, and in many ways would become the focus of our trip.

That afternoon Mexican magazine Proceso held a brief interview with Gardner in the DOCLOUNGE at our hotel, the Quality Inn.

Processo interview

It should be mentioned that DOCSDF was held in locations throughout the city and that our hotel was the location of DOCSFORUM, a meeting place for filmmakers, distributors, and broadcasters. This Forum was similar in form and intent to what one would find at HOTDOCS and SILVERDOCS.

Screening: Passenger and Dead Birds
All the screenings of Gardner’s work were held at Cineteca Nacional, the federally operated movie house in Coyoacán. This, the first night of the retrospective, was especially well attended and there was a packed house for both films. Eschewing a traditional linear sequencing of his films by date, a new perspective on Gardner’s work was encouraged by seemingly random pairings and this evening’s combination of Passenger and Dead Birds was especially interesting: a lesser known, recently made video piece about contemporary artist Sean Scully was followed by Gardner’s most famous film from 1961. After the showing of Dead Birds, a dialog with Gardner, linguist Dr. Raymundo Mier (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia), anthropologist Antonio Zirión (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana), and an enthusiastic audience was held.

Dr. Raymundo Mier


Nicholás Echevarria, Adele Pressman

Documentary filmmaker Eduardo Herrera conducted a short video interview with Gardner before we departed for El Rincon de la Lechuza with Gardner’s longtime friend Nicholás Echevarria.

interview with documentary filmmaker Eduardo Herrera

Fenz and Shiloh at El Rincon de la Lechuza

October 2: In the morning a small group of us journeyed over to Florencia Riestra to view an exhibition of paintings by Nico Echevarria. The marks and brush strokes made with a sort of restrained freedom immediately brought to mind the work of abstract expressionist Mark Tobey.

RG, Fenz and Shiloh @ Florencia Riestra

After lunch I spoke to a crowd of about 150 interested folks about documentary/educational film distribution as part of the DOCSFORUM. The overarching theme of my presentation was the importance of both sincerity and proficiency in film creation. Many thanks to my adept interpreter, Jorge.

Screening: Blunden Harbour and Rivers of Sand
This evening’s screening provided the viewers with an opportunity to see Gardner’s earliest film followed by one of his most controversial films (at least in the world of Anthropology). A 35mm blow-up of Rivers of Sand was projected with Spanish subtitles flown in beneath the screen. This was the first time I’d seen this kind of live titling done and was very impressed.

projection booth, RIVERS OF SAND

Post-film discussion with Gardner was led by anthropologist Scott Robinson and Carlos Flores (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana). Of all the Q&A sessions, this evening’s was the most challenging, yet Gardner managed to field the questions with his customary grace and eloquence.

Carlos Flores

Antonio, Scott Robinson, Adele

Nicholás Echevarria and Guillermo Sheridan

October 3: While I did a quick export to tape of the Paz material to be screened the following day, filmmaker Robert Fenz shot a conversation with Gardner and Mexican scholar and writer Guillermo Sheridan, some of which may be used in the upcoming Octavio Paz DVD. If I have one regret about this trip it is that we did not have more time to spend with this brilliant man.

Guillermo Sheridan

Guillermo and Bob

This was the first day I was able to see a few films that weren’t Bob’s. Aquí Se Construye, a film by Chilean Ignacio Agüero, was a beautiful story of a family home surrounded by massive demolition and construction projects in a residential Santiago neighborhood. The Last White Kuarup was a film about the Xingu, an indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. Both films were great, even without English translation for Gringos like me.

Screening: Deep Hearts and Forest of Bliss
I arrived late to the Cineteca and Ricardo Perez Montfort (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores de Antropología Social) had already begun the post-screening discussion. A new 35mm blow-up of Forest of Bliss had been shown and as expected, the audience and Montfort had many questions for Gardner. An inspired discussion of “intention, chance and circumstance” ensued.

Ricardo Perez Montfort

October 4: On Saturday morning Gardner participated in his final interview of the trip. In the DOCLOUNGE Antonio Zirión (UAEM), Carlos Flores (UAEM) and Julia Yezbick (Harvard University), all three former students of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, taped a short discussion with Bob about his work. Be on the lookout for a printed version of this conversation, most likely in the journal Alteridades.

Carlos Flores interviews Bob Gardner

Screening: Ika Hands & Octavio Paz footage
The final day of the retrospective was also the longest. We managed to sneak in an extra clip of Gardner and Paz discussing the material that became Ika Hands which extended the screening time by half an hour.

RG and Octavio Paz discuss IKA HANDS

Antonio and Nicholas Echevarria led the post-screening discussion, and Paz’s widow, Marijoe, was in attendance.

Nico Echevarria


a great question…

Robert Fenz closed the day with a brief preview of silent footage shot for Out of Light, his film inspired by the work of Gardner.

Robert Fenz

Robert Gardner post-screening

We departed the following day feeling quite energized. The festival staff was exceptionally kind and gracious we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

A short video I found online:

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