A rough-cut of the film Zona Intervenida was screened at the NYU Critical Tactics Lab in the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics on Thursday, November 20th, 2014, with a talk by co-director Nitin Sawhney, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School.
Guatemala is a country that struggled with civil war particularly genocide against indigenous groups for almost 40 years. Nearly 200,000 people died or went missing during the war, including 40,000 to 50,000 people who “disappeared”. (Wikipedia) Today, the young generation in Guatemala is heavily engaged in embracing their historic memory through various works of art. The film follows a number of Guatemalan artists in the fields of dance, performance and poetry displaying their translation of their historic memory of violence and civil war while they convene in Quetzaltenango which is a former train station that was converted to a military base during the war.
The film featured a number of performances, dance, poetry recitation and interviews. The interesting twist in the movie is that it was dealing with a generation of Guatemalans that have not been directly affected by the war, in fact this is the generation that suffered the residue of war. Accordingly it wouldn’t be surprising that their interpretation of this painful past will be different from those who had a direct interface with war. In the film performers and dancers summon in Quetzaltenago and create a routine by which they express the journey of historic memory where they were and where they are now!
One of the most fascinating performances in my opinion is the sweeper/ing act. In the empty building, under a roof that drew light rectangles in the floor designed by the precision of sun rays, each performer stood in one of beautiful sun spots and held a sweeper. Everyone started to sweep their way back and forth in their designated space. All performers were barefoot , it felt as if their feet were touching base with the feet of Guatemalans who lived in another time, some were victims and some were criminals. For a brief time these performers got the chance to relive the past, the difference is they had the opportunity to make a difference in a positive way. The intensity in the sweeping act felt that Guatemalans are not erasing the past but removing the dust and cracks because there is a lot of light to see. It’s a choice that these dancers made, they refuse to be captured in a silent painful memory but insist to look beyond that. Their movements looked very spiritual as if they were touching the ghosts and spirits from the past, perhaps they gave these ghosts a closure and assured them that they shall not and will not be forgotten. There was another act where balls that were made of mud and mixed with seeds were thrown in a field that could have been an execution zone. These “seed bombs” were planted replacing memories of death with memories of birth. An interesting performance was the shadow puppetry, which was a fun entertaining way of storytelling with in the film.
The cinematography aspect of Zona felt sleek, modern, and transitional. Some of the angles were rounded which gives room for one’s imagination to see beyond what’s on the screen. At times the performances were shot in black and white and gradually hint of colors kick in as the film unfolds. At the end of the movie , you feel that you got introduced to a style of arts that embraces the past with all of its different shades and steps into the future creating a conscious print of positive wave.
Nitin was asked, why Guatemala? He said, he was in a visit there where he was captured by the richness and beauty of the country. He met with Bonifaz Canelo (the other co-director of the film) and biked in some of the places featured in the movie. It seems they weren’t looking for a story but a story was waiting for them to be told.
During the screening a couple in the audience commented on the beauty and organic style of the performances, Nitin mentioned that some of these moves were improvised just before the shooting. There were four women filming and assisting the crew, their energies united and produced that wonderful dance under the rain scene. The key to this movie, Nitin says, “ is the level of intimacy and connection the team enjoyed during the making of Zona.”