Tonight, September 27, 2012, Natalia Almada’s El Velador (The Night Watchman) premieres on POV (check your local listings). The documentary is a film about violence without violence: a poetic and lyrical look at the drug wars in Mexico through the eyes of Martin, a man who watches over the mausoleums that house some of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords.
Read what critics are saying about El Velador:
“The Mexican drug cartels have inspired countless films, but never one as final as Natalia Almada’s El Velador. After this experience, everything else seems trivial.”
— Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Filtering the fallout of Mexico’s drug wars through the eyes of one stoic security guard, documentarian Natalia Almada (El General) avoids the head-on journalistic approach and emerges with something far more impressive: a piece of lyrical, sideways social reportage that still connects an astounding number of dots.”
— David Fear, Time Out New York
Shortly after taking office in December 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels and put the military to the task of fighting the drug trade. The subsequent blood bath has affected every sector of society and the daily lives of nearly all of Mexico’s citizens. In July 2012, Reuters reported that the drug war had killed more than 55,000 people since the start of Calderón’s presidency. When Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was elected president of Mexico on July 2, 2012, he vowed to continue Calderón’s fight against the country’s drug gangs.
The illegal drug trade is a multi-billion dollar industry without borders. Drugs are produced, trafficked and consumed across the globe, and they are responsible for billions of dollars circulating in the global economy. But it is Mexico that has become the central battlefield of this worldwide problem.
“There aren’t enough living to bury the dead,” says the director of the cemetery that is the setting for El Velador (The Night Watchman). The graveyard is located in Culiacán, capital of the northern state of Sinaloa, deep in the drug heartland of Mexico. It is a private enterprise, the most expensive such place in Culiacán. A plot here requires a level of disposable income that very few have. Since the beginning of the war on drugs, the number of graves in the cemetery has exploded, as has the extravagance of the mausoleums. Ranging in design from minimalist modern constructions to fanciful imitations of designs from magazines, these opulent tombs can cost upwards of $100,000.
“With my camera in the back corner of that cemetery, I set out to answer the question of how to look at violence. In making this film, I hoped to gain entry to that world. To experience what it means to live in that context, to work, to mourn, to sweat, to sleep there. I wanted to pause, and I wanted others to pause and be suspended in that place and moment where violence has just occurred and where violence is imminent,” says filmmaker Natalia Almada.