Back in 2012, Anna and I travelled to Oaxaca with our friend Nick Stewart, an artist and regular co-conspirator from my London days. We had in mind to make a film together that would centre on my conversations with Gustavo Esteva – the activist, ‘deprofessionalised intellectual’, friend of Ivan Illich, political advisor to the Zapatistas and founder of the Universidad de la Tierra.
These things don’t always turn out the way you expect. Back in England, in the cutting room, it dawned on us that the conversations we’d filmed worked better as a transcript than they did on screen – and this transcript became the basis for Dealing With Our Own Shit, a text that was published in Issue 4 of Dark Mountain. (One suggestion that Gustavo made to me, in particular, became the starting point for a whole strand of work on friendship and the commons, beginning with the talk I gave at the Commoning the City conference in Stockholm in April 2013.)
Meanwhile, Nick had returned from Mexico with an extraordinary collection of footage, shot from the hip as we wandered around Oaxaca and later Cuernavaca, where we took part in a conference to mark the tenth anniversary of Illich’s death. The images that accumulated on camera were almost implausibly suggestive – from the men at work with sledgehammers, smashing up the sidewalk below the Hotel America, to the schoolchildren queuing to be led into an inflatable globe, to the graduation ceremony taking place in a university sports hall, where a gulf of empty floor separates the assembled parents from their offspring.
All of this and more, Nick had stumbled across during those days. The puzzle was what to do with it all. And then he met the Mexican writer and artist Helen Blejerman, and their conversation became an exchange of stories, like letters read aloud, about memories from their childhoods in Mexico and Ireland. Together with the music of Nils Fram, Nick and Helen’s stories are woven together with the scenes from Oaxaca into a feature-length film essay, …as sure as the rain.
You can watch the trailer below – or the whole film here.
And if you watch closely, you may notice a hairy silhouette on the edge of the frame, or two tall white folks arm in arm in the middle of a Oaxacan street market; traces of the journey in which this film had its beginnings. It all seems a long time ago now.