As climate change becomes more and more ingrained in the public consciousness, the effects are fodder for commentary, especially in the realm of documentaries. Everardo Gonzalez’s Drought is an environmental documentary but the key difference is that it focuses on both the environment and the environment of people without moralizing or romanticism. When thinking about how easy it is to do both, especially with the topic at hand, the results are astounding and hypnotic.
Drought is focused on the lives of a small northern Mexican village in Cuate de Australia. It is a place that values its sense of geography; it effect, its location is its identity. The rustic dwellings are threadbare; electricity is rare, TV and appliances are almost non-existent. It’s a place frozen in time, away from the troubles currently racking the country. It is also bitterly poor. Poverty coupled with the harsh environment has cultivated a sense of defiant individualism. It is that tradition that continues to occupy hallowed ground within the Mexican Psyche. However, the passages of time make a mockery of belief systems as nature undermines their sense of station again and again. Luckily, the director exercises restraint and does not let their sense of pride overshadow the undercurrent of fatalism that has seeped into their lives.
It is a hard life but Gonzalez shows with astute skill, that their lives are worth living; their livelihoods are worth the sweat and tears because that is the only life they know. A nation has passed them by and their sense of isolation is the cruel irony of life on the barren prairie. Their animals show the effects most of all, malnourished, they wander in desperate search of water; often times, they meet a sad end. Water, the main leitmotif of the film casts a shadow over the village. Often times it is dirty and unsafe to drink. The only filtration device available at hand is a piece of fabric; its’ only effective at keeping stones and maybe small animals away from the already contaminated water. In short, the villagers adapt but it is a slow death sentence that is probably nestled deep behind the village’s psyche.
However, the film never betrays a sense of total doom; the children are smiling, families are waiting to be created and recreation continues. It is a testament to human resilience but it is also a reminder of the powerful hold tradition has on the individual. From a young man who walked away from higher education to become a rancher to church and social functions, the documentary takes on an anthropological bent but it never takes its eye off the elephant in the room. Such documentaries are to be lauded for it is easy to settle into dogmatic points of view or even worse, be didactic. Scenes such as a spat between two boys, lightens the mood a little with the help of rough language and one of the first shots of a horse will be sure to widen the eyes.
In the end, fate will decide what happens since fatalism is a hallmark of Mexico. But don’t think for a second that they will let their end stop their today. There is still life to be lived, there is still water to be found. There are still people who will watch and come out like I have, enthralled and alternately astounded and frightened at the power that stands outside our windows.
Drought is screening as a part of DocuWeeks 2012 at the IFC, located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West 3rd Street. You can catch shows on:Tue, Aug 14 at: 1:45 PM, 7:25 PM
Wed, Aug 15 at: 3:30 PM, 9:45 PM
Thu, Aug 16 at: 1:45 PM, 7:25 PM