A Place Called Chiapas


Has there ever been a more media-friendly revolution than the Zapatista uprising? Nettie Wild’s Chiapas journal contains shots of rebel Web sites— launched soon after the guerrillas’ spectacular 1994 New Year’s Day revolt— and captures a droll Marie Claire photo shoot, in which the gun-toting philosopher-subcomandante Marcos poses against the southern Mexico hills.

Still, the doc’s early moments are disappointingly uncinematic. Paramilitary thugs threaten to kill Wild’s crew— but off-camera. Marcos refuses an interview with the cryptic words “She knows why.”

As it turns out, though, Wild’s film coalesces around the unseen. Far from the media crush, she joins a lonely jungle trek of indigenous villagers determined to reclaim their homes from the paramilitary; arriving at their village, the group is attacked— as soon as Wild turns her camera off.

This memorable, frightening episode— blank moments above all— drives home how much remains out of view, even in “the first postmodern revolution.” Eventually, the pipe-smoking cult of personality does sit for a session of jungle existentialism, but it’s to Wild’s great credit that by then the villagers’ struggle— the human dimension behind the war of symbols— seems just as absorbing.