The Storm That Swept Mexico: A Must See Film

Producer-director Raymond Telles presents a time period in Mexico not found in American textbooks

By Belinda Quesada
Published on LatinoLA: June 12, 2011

The Storm That Swept Mexico: A Must See Film

An opportunity to see the historically significant documentary, "The Storm That Swept Mexico," as told through the recollection of scholars and those who experienced the 1910 Social Revolution first-hand, will air again on PBS television this fall.

Our story begins at the turn of the 20th Century in Morelia, Michoac?ín, M?®xico. And when Raymond Telles recalls his family legend, it's hard to imagine he's talking about THE Emiliano Zapata; but he is. It was during the Social Revolution that Ray's great grandparents, Delfino Ochoa and his wife, fought alongside the handsome and charismatic revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata. Their stories passed down through the generations inspired Telles to eventually co-produce this historical documentary of the socio-economic crisis that came to define Mexican politics.

With a $4,000 grant received from PBS, Telles took his small film crew to the state of Morelos, M?®xico, to interview the last of the surviving Zapatistas. Arrangements were made to meet the survivors. When they arrived, they found that some had died and others were in various stages of declining health.

A few were well into there nineties with one being over one hundred years of age. Ultimately, four men were included in the film. Because they received no military pension from the Mexican government, Telles made sure that they each received a stipend for their interviews. Those who did appear on film told vivid stories of General Emiliano Zapata. Each described with pride knowing and fighting alongside the enigmatic leader.

As a leader, Zapata was ahead of his time in his military tactics and believed in equal opportunity. In his army: Women were welcome. Known as "soldaderas," they were incorporated into battle. Not only did some brave women fight in the war; they also followed their men, provided meals, and created makeshift hospitals in the railroad cars.

The film used archival footage to cleverly illustrate M?®xico's social and political struggle. President Portfolio Diaz (1876 to 1911) gave away nearly three quarters of Mexico's land and mineral wealth primarily to England, Germany, and the US. While Diaz believed he was building a more modern Mexico, the working class knew better.

These same foreign interests were building railroads creating an infrastructure, not to help Mexico join the 20th Century; but rather, to help themselves transport goods back home.

Their plan was to remove the copper, silver, and petroleum riches with the intention of exporting these goods purely for their own self-interest. This was a clever and ruthless scheme that allowed them to exploit the working class to line their pockets. This two-tiered society is what launched The Social Revolution of Mexico.

Historians have uncovered holdings around 1910 that were owned in majority by Americans. The Social Revolution was a reaction to that. After 1934, newly-elected President Cardenas was able to negotiate a landmark agreement with the Americans and the British to nationalize petroleum exports, essentially taking back Mexico from its foreign grasp. This was a major turning point in Mexican history.

Sadly, this achievement was never included in any U.S. history books.

The film covers nearly thirty years of Mexico's rich history detailing the socio-economic and political struggles that explain some of today's painful realities.

Flash-forward to 2011. Having celebrated their Centennial Anniversary of the Social Revolution, a wide economic discrepancy still exist between the rich and the poor with the Middle Class being virtually non-existent in Mexico. It important to note that the film covers a time period in Mexico that is not found in any American textbooks. Therefore, "The Storm That Swept Mexico," is a great treasure for us all. You can support this film by purchasing the DVD and if you are an educator or film buff, share it with those you love. "?íLa Lucha Sigue!"

What follows is an interview with "The Storm That Swept Mexico" director Raymond Telles.

His body of work includes "The Fight in the Fields," a the biography of Cesar Chavez; "Inside the Body Trade" (National Geographic Explorer); "Children of the Night" (Frontline); and "Race is the Place." Experience is his calling card, having produced and directed programs for PBS, ABC, NBC, Discovery, and National Geographic. An accomplished, award-winning director, writer, and documentarian for over two decades, he began in the 1970's as a radio reporter in San Francisco, California.

Telles has received numerous prestigious awards including: Emmy Awards, the DuPont-Columbia Gold Baton, PBS, and Programming Awards for News and Current Affairs, The Ohio State Award, ALMA Award, top honors in the Chicago, New York and San Francisco Film Festivals, and countless other awards for his work in film and broadcast journalism.

Belinda Quesada (BQ): Congratulations on this phenomenal project. How long did the research take?

Raymond Telles (RT): The research alone took 4 - 5 years.

BQ: What kept you going?

RT: What kept us going was the tenacity to complete a project we loved and wanted to share.

BQ: Clearly this was a labor of love as it took 10 years to make. What went through your mind during the struggles to make this film?

RT: Anything good, you have to fight for. This project was something we all believed in. Not only because of my family history but, because it's a story that had to be told.

BQ: Your film, "The Storm That Swept M?®xico," is an amazing piece of Mexican history. How did you pitch this project for funding?

RT: Well, this project started in 2000, and there was great difficulty in financing this film. Like any Independent film, we pitched to anyone who would listen. In the end, thanks to three grants from the Independent Television Service (ITVS); Latino Public Broadcasting; and the National Endowment of Humanities, we raised a total of $1.4 million. As you might imagine, there is an enormous amount of research and planning in developing a film. Scripts were written and presented for funding, like a big puzzle you put together.

BQ: Why a documentary film? Why not a television series?

RT: The nature of TV has changed. Our documentaries are well-researched and have an historical value that is developed over time. Unfortunately, there is very little content developed by local stations. Most shows are made elsewhere at a fraction of the price, bundled together, and are satellite driven to appeal to the masses. Reality shows seem to be taking over.

BQ: Paradigm Productions produced this film. Any details you'd like to share?

TR: Paradigm Productions is located in Berkeley, California. I worked with an amazing team of professionals. Our co-producer Kenn Rabin is an expert on tracking archival footage. Thanks to him, we were able to garner some great historical images, especially photos of President Diaz in glass plates. These are extremely rare and quite fragile. We used a lot of personal and private collections. Initially, we began with a collection of 300 images and ended up with 4,000. To gain access to exclusive images spanning some 400 years of Mexican history, we negotiated $100,000 for the archival rights to some material.

BQ: What was your agreement with PBS on this project?

RT: The contractual agreement with PBS is to provide an inter-active website, content for educators and students to use. On our website, you can explore a detailed timeline of the revolutionary period and click on characters, learn more about their lives, explore cultural artifacts, play a "Loteria" (a Mexican style Bingo game), and much more.

We are also on social networking sites; you can blog about your experiences, and purchase the DVD in High Definition. We also have a collaborative agreement with the University of California at Berkeley to assist with creating educational materials and the website.

BQ: Immigration is still a hot topic; after working on this documentary, have you changed your opinion?

RT: No, it seems that every 30 years the U.S. deports Mexicans. It is what America has been doing for the last 100 years. This film reflects the divisions in class and provides a clearer understanding of history. It's a cyclical and ridiculous farce to watch.

BQ: What do you hope Latinos will take away from this film?

RT: Pride. This is a factual account of our history. But, this film is not just for Latinos. I believe that Latinos will feel very proud of this project. I believe that if you understand your past, you are less likely to commit future errors. I want us to learn from our past.

BQ: What was the most surprising thing you learned?

RT: Mexico has a complicated history and I had no idea of the number of details we would have to sift through and organize. When going through this process, you realize how much you don't know. The most difficult task was to take this volume of very important and critical information and simplify it for the film. There is so much material we had to leave out. We hope to be able to show it all in the DVD.

BQ: In a perfect world, who would you like to see this film?

RT: My dream is to get this film out to all of our legislators in Sacramento, California, and the federal government and have them look at it. They would have an understanding of the history and perhaps we could come up with a bilateral solution to the level of violence Mexico is experiencing. After all, the Social Revolutionary War is 100 years old, from 1919 ÔÇô 2010.

BQ: What has the response been from Hollywood?

RT: This film is not for Hollywood. It is for Chicanos, Latinos. It is very gratifying to me as a Producer-Director. We had to push to get this film financed. I strongly believe that if you know where you come from, you have a better understanding of who you are. We give voice to those fallen heroes who fought with their lives and gave up what little they had to believe in democracy.

BQ: Why did you decide to make this documentary?

RT: It was simple. We were lacking in Chicano history. We needed a voice, a Chicano, a person with vision. We have many talented historians like Alex Saragoza. He is a wonderful storyteller.

BQ: Why use Luis Valdez, from El Teatro Compassion as the narrator of your film?

RT: It was important to have Luis Valdez as the Narrator. After all, he is the voice of the Chicano movement. When I approached him about the project, he immediately agreed. I enjoyed working with him. We hope to do something else in the future.

BQ: Working on any future projects?

RT: Next, Paradigm Productions is excited about a six-part television series on Latino Americans, spanning some forty years.

BQ: If money were no object, what would be your dream project?

RT: I want to do a narrative feature, ideally a fictional story of Emiliano Zapata because no good films exist. I really admire him and believe he was pure at heart. He had integrity, grit, and fought for the land and his beloved people. Zapata was not an egotist; rather, a man of principle, truly concerned about the poor. I learned this from the testimony of the men and women he served with. Perhaps even a love story of Zapata or someone like him. He was a true Mexican hero.

More info at: http://www.pbs.org/itvs/storm-that-swept-mexico

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