Morelia Film Festival: A filmmaker revisits punks after 20 years, finding a slum transformed
More than 20 years ago, an aspiring filmmaker named Sarah Minter found her way to Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, a notorious slum outside Mexico City popularly known as "Neza." She befriended a group of young punks -- they were teenagers, disenchanted and rejected by just about everyone -- and began filming their lives.
The documentary she released in 1986 about the Neza punks, "Nadie Es Inocente," became an underground classic.
Filmed with a now-ancient 3/4 U-matic camera, Minter's film displayed a crumbling, polluted world populated by Mexico's legions of forgotten poor. In such an environment, a punk culture seems to emerge naturally; the boys she followed form quasi-gangs who hang out in trash dumps and abandoned buildings, attend out-of-control rock shows and defend their turf against enemies and outsiders.
Two decades later, Minter decided to seek out the same punks in Neza and update their lives for the documentary screen. Her new film, "Nadie Es Inocente: 20 Años Despues," or "No One is Innocent: 20 Years Later," premiered this week at the Morelia International Film Festival.
In the new film, Neza is seen as a maturing community, with electricity, paved roads and industry. (Minter told La Plaza that back "in that era there weren't even telephones in Neza.") The punks she followed back then are radically different as well. One has become an author of books on various subcultures. Another is an ardent Christian. One former punk dedicates himself to painting. Another is trained as a full-on classical dancer.
"Maybe the thing that binds them all is that most of them are interested in culture, and I think that has a lot to do with the experience they had with the [first] movie," Minter said in an interview in Morelia.
"I do believe that being filmed transforms you. You realize that you manage your own image, how it is handled, how it's reflected."
The film is also a testament to a documentarian's deep commitment to her subjects. Minter's connection with the Neza punks shines through in practically every scene.
Regarding one of the punks, Minter recalled, "Rafa was respected even among his enemies. We were actually in a bunch of fights between gangs, hundreds against hundreds, and I would get in, 'How dare you hit my boys?!'''
"They would right away become like an army around me," she said. "The truth is, all of Neza respected us."
"Nadie Es Inocente: 20 Años Despues" is not just a tale of a happy reunion. Several of the punks who appear in the original film are dead. Minter's main character in the first film, a punk known as Cara, is among those who did not survive the darker aspects of 1980s urban life in Mexico.
In the original film, he wanders away from Neza and boards a train heading north. He is the only punk in Minter's original film whose thoughts are transmitted in voice-over. Cara was special, a unique personality, Minter said.
"The last time I saw Cara, he had gotten out of prison. In fact, he came looking for me because he wanted us to do something else together," Minter recalled. "I found out Cara had died once we had already started filming. I went to look for him where he used to live. And that's where his cousins told me he was dead.... They don't know if he died drunk, or if he was killed."
-- Daniel Hernandez in Morelia, Mexico
Photo: The Neza punk known as Cara, in a still from 'Nadie Es Inocente,' the 1986 Sarah Minter documentary. Credit: YouTube