Echo of the Mountain (Eco de la montaña): Cinema du Reel Review

Echo of the Mountain Film Still - H 2014
Cinema du Reel

Echo of the Mountain Film Still - H 2014

Empathetic and poetic documentary about an artist whose work and culture flourishes very much under the social and cultural radar.

Mexican filmmaker Nicolas Echevarria’s latest outing explores the life of Huichol artist Santos de la Torre, whose multi-panelled mural adorns a wall in the subway station off the Louvre in Paris.

In his 40-year career, Nicolas Echevarria has strived to bring Mexico’s indigenous Huichol people to prominence either through documentaries (Maria Sabina: mujer espiritu) or feature films (the 1991 Berlinale entry Cabeza de vaca, about the conquistadors’ intrusion into native American territories). While hardly as ground-breaking and epic as his past offerings, Echo of the Mountain can boast of having a central subject whose work have become nearly an institution in the Parisian subway system for nearly two decades.

Not that the millions of tourists taking the metro to the Louvre would know Santos de la Torre, whose multi-panelled mural has adorned a wall inside the nearby Palais Royal station since 1997 -- as shown in news footage at the beginning of Echo of the Mountain, the Huichol artist wasn’t even invited to the unveiling of the piece. Having just made its bow on Mar. 21 at (probably very appropriately) the French capital’s Cinema du Reel festival -- with a domestic premiere on Mar. 25 at the Guadalajara festival to follow -- Echevarria’s measured and beautifully-shot documentary has provided the Huichol artist with a belated and well-deserved acknowledgement of the creativity and craftsmanship which goes into these vast paintings made of miniscule beads.

Just as many of the Huichol individuals Echevarria has featured in his films, de la Torre places much emphasis in the spirituality of his work -- from the rituals conducted to facilitate his work, to the religious symbolism apparent in the actual art pieces -- but Echo of the Mountain is no simplistic pandering to those seeking cultural exotica. The film never contrives to produce cheap cultural-clash gags; the artist is shown very much at ease in adapting to the rhythms of modern, urban life -- he works with plastic beads, after all, works out of a rented atelier in town, and is curious and accepting enough of other approaches of art (he says he feels “sad” for not understanding murals in an exhibition at an abstract art museum in town).

But De La Torre knows of how he and his fellow Huichols (and native communities) are perennially marginalized. Over the images of the then Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo inaugurating his mural in Paris in 1997, the artist said the authorities have “deeply hurt my soul;” meanwhile, he said he’s sad that his traditions are now going extinct forever as mining and tomato companies broach his community’s lands. These pressing concerns are woven into his work through mythological symbols in the murals; more importantly, they could now be seen and heard widely as Echevarria’s documentary captures his life and Huichol culture vividly and poetically with some fluid camerawork. With the whole piece revolving around the de la Torre’s process of making a new mural, Echo of the Mountain resembles a ritual in itself.

Venue: Cinema du Reel festival

Production Company: Cuadro Negro

Director: Nicolás Echevarría

Producers: Jose Álvarez, Julio Chavezmontes

Executive Producers: Michael Fitzgerald, James Ramey

Cinematographers: Nicolás Echevarría, Sebastián Hofmann

Editor: Omar Guzmán

In Huichol and Spanish

80 minutes