"The Storm That Swept Mexico": A Must See Film

An interview with producer-director Raymond Telles on his documentary that airs September 19 on PBS

By Belinda Quesada
Published on LatinoLA: September 19, 2011

"The Storm That Swept Mexico": A Must See Film

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, you will have another opportunity to view the powerful documentary, "The Storm That Swept Mexico," airing now on PBS television. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month. The film is told through the recollection of scholars, historians and soldiers who experienced the 1910 Social Revolution.

Get info on the film by clicking here.

Producer, director and former journalist, Raymond Telles, felt deeply committed to telling the historical facts of Mexico's political struggle. According to the family legend, in Chihuahua, M?®xico, Ray's grandfather and great grandfather, both named Delfino Ochoa, were deeply involved in the anti-reelectionist clubs. Having joined the armed movement in the north, their stories were passed down through the Tellez family for generations. Inspired partly by his family legend and partly by the fact that Mexican politics are not widely known in the U.S. history books, Telles decided to co-produce and direct this historical documentary that chronicles the rise of the socio-economic crisis that defined Mexican politics at the turn of the 20th Century.

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. 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.

Ultimately, four former soldiers were included in the film and their vivid recollection of fighting alongside General Emiliano Zapata is priceless. Each described with pride knowing the enigmatic leader.

As a leader, Zapata was ahead of his time in his military tactics and ruled with fair and just leadership. In his army, women were welcome. Known as Soldaderas, the women were incorporated into battle. Not only did some brave women fight in the war; they followed their men, provided meals and created makeshift hospitals in the railroad cars. This was a unique practice.

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

It was scandalous that these same foreign interests, who built the railroads and created an infrastructure, did so not to help Mexico join the 20th Century, but rather, to help themselves transport goods back home. They removed copper, silver, and petroleum riches 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 was the two-tiered society that launched Mexico's Social Revolution.

Historians have uncovered holdings around 1910 that were owned in majority by Americans. The Social Revolution was also 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. While Mexico recently celebrated their Centennial Anniversary of the Social Revolution, a wide economic discrepancy still exists between the rich and the poor with the Middle Class being virtually non-existent in Mexico.

The Storm That Swept Mexico, is a great treasure for us all to have in our film library. You can support this film by purchasing the DVD or, if you are an educator or film buff, share it with those you love, por qu?® "La Lucha Sigue!"

About Raymond Telles, Director and Co producer

His body of work includes "The Fight in the Fields, 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. He is an accomplished, award-winning director, writer, and documentarian for over two decades beginning 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 to 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 our 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 a sense of pride 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 to tell the story. When going through this process, you realize how much you do not know. The most difficult task was taking this volume of very important and critical information and simplifying it for the film. There was 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. I would love for them to see the film and learn the real history that occurred. 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 to be a part of this wonderful film. 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? 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.

Get info on the film by clicking here.

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