Oscars: 'Tempestad' Exposes Mexico's Rampant Crime and Corruption

Tempestad - Still 1 -Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Pimienta Films

Documentary filmmaker Tatiana Huezo on how she put a human face to the thousands of victims who have suffered the brutal consequences of human trafficking.

In her harrowing film Tempestad (Tempest), about the horrors of human trafficking, Tatiana Huezo elicits outrage and sorrow as gangsters operate with impunity and the voices of victims go unheard.

The poignant documentary tells two loosely connected stories: one follows a woman who lands in a cartel-controlled prison after she's wrongly convicted of human trafficking, the other centers on a grieving circus mom seeking justice for her missing daughter.

Sadly, despite the intrepid filmmaking effort of El Salvador-born, Mexico-raised Huezo, the outlook remains bleak in Mexico, where the murder rate is on track to become the worst ever this year and forced disappearances continue to occur at an alarming rate.

Next up Huezo will take on equally distressing themes with her fiction debut Noche de Fuego, based on Jennifer Clement's novel Prayers for the Stolen. The film adaptation, co-produced by Jim Jarmusch collaborator Jim Stark, centers on three young girls victimized by Mexico's unchecked cartel violence.

Tempestad is the first documentary since 1957 to get submitted as Mexico's foreign-language Oscar entry. Huezo spoke to THR about legislators' indifference to the film and about the perils of shooting in Mexico.

What kind of reactions has Tempestad had from audiences abroad?

Some people in Europe have asked how I was able to find two such exceptionally dramatic cases, and they were surprised when I explained that these are not isolated cases, that there are more than 30,000 cases of people who have gone missing in Mexico.

Has Tempestad had any screenings for Mexican lawmakers or government officials to address issues like human trafficking and corruption?

There was a special screening at the Senate building last year and it began with five or six senators in the audience, but when it finished only one senator remained. Both victims who appear in the film attended the screening and the idea was to address the issues with the senators after the presentation, but when the movie was over most of the people that needed to be there had left.

Throughout the movie we see images of heavily armed police and yet lawlessness prevails. Do you see any solution in sight to the violence or has Mexico become a failed state?

I definitely think we are seeing a failed state because the government is a fundamental part of the problem. However, I think you can't lose hope, otherwise you lose the battle, and Mexico's people have always shown strength, unity and the capacity to organize in times of need.

You're now developing your first fiction film, Noche de Fuego. What can you tell us about it?

It's a coming-of-age story about three girls growing up in the midst of violence. For me, it's about what it's like for a girl to grow up during a war, and it's a story that can happen anywhere in Mexico nowadays.

Do you ever feel like your life might be in danger when making these films?

We always follow a certain protocol, for example, in some areas we would finish shooting before 6 p.m. Also, Mexico now has a growing industry of security experts and one thing they do is watch a cut of the film and assess the risks involved before it's released, and in our case Tempestad was deemed low risk because it doesn't name names.