“Learning to lose fear of terror ”: feminism and storytelling, the new voices in independent cinema in Mexico, interview with Mitzi Martinez.

By Belén Nieto

Stories always find a way to catch us, whatever the format in which they are presented, anecdotes, books, social media posts, movies, old photos … stories that over time become part of we predispose us to create and shape our taste for counting.

All of us perhaps have a key memory of childhood, accurate or diffuse, of how this or that series, novel, artist, comic or magazine came to us, a magical and almost empirical discovery:

“What I have loved most since I was a child are fantastic stories and literary adaptations. (…) As a child I loved reading novels and watching Harry Potter and Narnia movies; in adolescence I got closer to magical realism writers such as Isabel Allende, Juan Rulfo and Gabriel García Márquez, and it was there that I also came across Guillermo del Toro’s films and my guilty pleasure from Twilight – says Mitzi -“

In the teenage, many times the story is different, a chat between friends, recommendations, knowledge that moves in a circle, is shared and that can guide us inadvertently to the starting point that constitutes in the future what we are passionate about:

“When I was 17 years old, and I was looking for what career I wanted to study, a friend invited me to a short film rally. That’s where I fell in love with audiovisual production! I studied a degree in Communication and Media Production. When I graduated from my degree my first job was as a content creator for social networks, and what I liked the most was taking photos and making videos of events. Then I took courses in photography, production, editing, everything that caught my attention about realization. There I met many people, who invited me to collaborate in other short films, and several of the crew members of “The Last Meal”.

To that little friend push, nurtured by a whole backpack of stories between fantasy and magical realism, the real possibility would later be added to capture their own storytelling on screen:

“In one of those courses I found out about the call for Macabro COVEN , for the co-production of horror short films directed by women, and I applied to make my first short as a horror genre director. It was a great personal and professional challenge. When I sent my project to the call in 2020, in the midst of confinement due to the pandemic, I was in a process of introspection, evaluating where I wanted to develop my professional career, wondering if I had what it took to develop myself in the audiovisual industry“- Mitzi tells- I was seriously thinking about applying for a master’s degree in Business Administration and dedicating myself 100% to my office work, when I got the email that “The Last Meal” had been selected by the Macabro COVEN. I couldn’t believe it! But as soon as I found out, I spoke to my production company and we got to work. Along the way, there was everything. I was scared to see that the project grew and grew, that I was going to need more than the hands of my 6 friends from the university with whom I did my first projects; that he was going to need more resources, in addition to the support of the Macabro COVEN co-production call; for the first time I worked with a scouter, with a professional assistant director, with a sound design studio, with a colorist and with a distributor. But before filming began and at the end of it, I felt more than happy to be doing what I love, to continue learning and to continue creating

Being a woman director and operaprimista in the world of independent cinema, a reality that became tangible last year with the arrival of an email, although since her student years she had been shaping her experience as an audiovisual producer:

“This is my first short film as a professional- talking about “The Last Meal” – but in college I was the producer of all the shorts of the generation and a couple of years ago I directed a short film at the 48 Hour Film Project in Mexico City, but the creative challenge and the pressure are not equal. The university or initiatives like 48 HFP, are safe spaces where you don’t owe anything to anyone, the budgets are symbolic, you have a chance to experiment and make mistakes without great consequences. With “The Last Meal” I had in my hands the opportunity to capture my creative vision on the screen, to do “whatever I wanted” , but I also had the challenge of managing a larger budget, with the commitment to deliver a quality short film with the Festival Macabro and the co-producers who joined in its production. That gave me a lot of lessons, it allowed me to get to know myself as a filmmaker, as a leader and to know a little more about how this industry moves “-Says Mitzi-

She did not make that big step to the screen alone, teamwork is crucial to bring a film to life and Mitzi experienced it through this feminist, collaborative and empowering initiative:

For me the Macabre COVEN was crucial to boost my passion for cinema and professionalize my work as a fiction filmmaker. It put me in contact with great mentors and professionals in the industry, such as Edna Campos, director of the Macabro Festival; Nacho Soto, director of Fix Comunicación; Izrael and Fares Moreno, founders of the Faculty of Cinema; José Luis Rojas, producer of Tanhäuser Film Tank and of course the TANU girls, Tatiana Lechner and Rocío Rocha ”- says Mitzi-

In addition to that instance, venturing into the audiovisual world also implied opening doors to other worlds and experiencing an unexpected approach: a taste for horror stories

I lost my fear of horror movies until college , since for some subjects we had to see excerpts from horror films in class or homework we had to review at least one per semester. I am an extremely rational and super nerdy person. Faced with this difficult academic task, I challenged myself to see more terror, to understand it, to know how these stories are configured and why they provoke those sensations . Once I lost my fear of it and expanded my visual culture, I was fascinated by the complexity of the stories and the way in which good films of the genre provoke endless extreme emotions. It is having the emotions of getting on a roller coaster, but in the comfort of an armchair, the armchair at home or your bed . “

Whether by inventiveness or destiny, from this new link the story of an unfortunate thief would be born, who, in one night, among the cold and dark urban pavement, would find the most curious of outcomes, “The Last Meal”:

I wrote this story in my last year of college , it was an assignment for scriptwriting class. My teacher recommended us to write about something that we knew and, although I have never faced death, I had several bestiaries among my books . I went through the pages of him looking for a creature that I wanted to write about, that I wanted to put in a situation of everyday life. I met the banshees, the washerwomen and weeping women, messengers of death, and I decided to write about an encounter with death in present-day Mexico

But that encounter with death is not just any encounter, but a kind of small reliquary that transports us to the most cultural and intimate vein of the country and that symbiotically unites the present and past, modernity and history:

“The Death of” The Last Supper “is a dichotomous entity, benevolent to alleviate the suffering of an innocent dying dog, and terrible to punish men” bad ”of the story. The short film has typical Catholic references from Mexico, such as the street altars or the scapular of Manuel , the protagonist, with which I sought to reaffirm the presence of this supernatural being that , as Mexicans – and as human beings – we seek to understand through some religious customs. I definitely wanted to capture a bit of my culture in this character, particularly in his wardrobe, for which I chose fabrics with lace, such as the blankets that women used to wear to go to the church ”

Storytelling is an art, but not only for knowing how to count, but for creating an environment and transmitting in the most complete and direct way our vision and feeling about what we want to tell others, a challenge that becomes more interesting in the short format:

“As a director and producer, the most interesting thing about short films is that they become a platform for experimentation, a space to test genres, creative styles, meet people and build teams . As a writer and storyteller the great challenge is to tell an interesting and complete story in a short time. The part that I enjoyed the most about making the short film was looking for the locations and designing the image of my characters so that they would visually carry that little piece of Mexico. Likewise, I spent several hours of video calls with the photographer Alex Gorod, drawing the storyboard, telling him about series and films that had the visual style he wanted for the short ”- says Mitzi-

With his first short film starting the festival tour (Macabro FICH and the Shorts México , premiering the Fastascorto section), Mitzi divides his time between work and his cinephile-literary passion:

“I have a“ Godinez ”job –of office– in public relations, where I have the opportunity to propose audiovisual communication pieces and where I am building my personal fund to make more short films. In my spare time I watch movies, series, read and write. Right now, in addition to moving “The Last Meal” in national and international festivals, I am reading more terror and more authors, like Sandra Becerril, because I want to start writing a feature film, but from a postmodern feminist perspective. ”

Fortunately, the panorama for those productions with female directors at the helm in Mexico is setting precedents with projects such as the Macabro Coven:

“It seems to me that we are opening the way to equity – says Mitzi- and that the most important thing to achieve it is that we promote ourselves among filmmakers, that more spaces are created for the development of young talent, with a vision of diversity

Empowering through validation, possibilities and listening, an encouraging panorama for all those young filmmakers who undertake the journey of embarking on the world of cinema, in the words of Mitzi:

“Don’t let fear stop you, as the only way to be successful is by doing things. Write, draw, record or photograph with whatever you have on hand, with a cell phone or on a napkin . Tell your friends, teachers and family about your projects, because you never know who can guide you to a good call, who can lend you a camera, a location or introduce you to the producer, photographer, sound engineer or colorist that you needed. I would tell them that and it is worth having a job from 8 to 6 that does not have to do with the cinema, as long as they do not forget what is really you are passionate, keep looking for the means and the time to create ”