All Souls Week in November, check out an extraordinary film that not only celebrates the best of Tucson, but nails its essence for anyone who's never had the good fortune to visit here. Featuring a live performance onscreen by Calexico.
The film Flor de Muertos thrums with the pulse of Tucson, celebrating its unique nature as the confluence of two powerful and confounding cultures. If, ultimately, the filmmakers have cast their nets too widely, there is nonetheless a very impressive catch hauled aboard. Either Lisa Rinzler's stunning and evocative cinematography or Calexico's vibrant and emotional soundtrack could stand on its own as one of the pillars of a mighty achievement. The problem is, Flor de Muertos is really two movies.
The first is an exploration of two celebrations: the traditional Mexican Dia de los Muertos, and Tucson's unique All Souls Procession. The latter was filmed in its 20th anniversary incarnation, which culminated with a concert from our justifiably renowned hometown heroes.
This is what director Danny Vinik initially sought to capture: a Calexico concert film, with proceeds to benefit Many Mouths One Stomach, the nonprofit that organizes the Procession.
But in so doing, he and his crew began to make a second film which arose from exploring the cross-border attitudes towards mortality. The second film is about the border itself, and the deaths that are happening on either side, from the violence of the drug war in the south, and the arduous desert crossings of the migrants in the north.
These two films inevitably complement each other, and inevitably crowd each other out. The focus on the celebrations and the music omits the richness of the debate over border issues, and each community's response to the xenophobia and violence. The articulate talking-heads interviews (with journalists Charles Bowden and Margaret Regan) feel both too short and too long. And at the same time, by wading into these contentious waters, the film gives short shrift to the vibrancy and spirit of the All Souls Procession – though the filmed performance finale is breathtaking, the civilian parade participants are largely unheard from.
The Procession began with a creative mourning ritual by artist Susan Johnson and a few friends in 1990, and has grown to include 20,000 spectators/participants each November. Part Dia de Los Muertos celebration, part Burning Man audience participation event, part Halloween parade, and part avant-circus spectacle, the weekend of events is utterly Tucsonan, a reflection of the best of what it means to live in this particular place.
(article written by Mark Zepezauer, Special to TucsonSentinel.com)