The New York Times called the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico the “World’s first post-modern revolution,” whatever the hell that means. Nettie Wild, in her gutsy documentary “A Place Called Chiapas,” explores this ongoing tragedy unfolding at our southern neighbor’s bottom tip. For viewers who don’t read the Times or any other newspaper, the film opens with a nicely summarized historical overview of recent events. We learn that while there have been long-standing simmering tensions between Chiapas’ indigenous inhabitants and the Mexican descendants of their ancient Spanish conquerors, it may come as a surprise to learn that something as innocuous as a trade agreement could spark this Mexican intifadeh. Yet while NAFTA caused some mild controversy here in the states, this film posits that in Chiapas, it led to war.
It seems that with the passage of NAFTA, the Mexican government dispossessed the Zapatistas from their land in order to grow marketable produce to feed NAFTA’s insatiable maw. As a result, the Zapatistas, under the charismatic guidance of their mysteriously hooded pipe-smoking leader Sub-Commandente Marcos, soon formed a guerrilla army which entered the world’s consciousness by descending from the mountains and seizing a city before withdrawing under a Mexican army counterattack. The region has lurched along under a tense and tenuous cease fire ever since.
“A Place Called Chiapas” more closely resembles “48 Hours” than “60 Minutes.” If you’re expecting to see the Zapatistas and the Mexican government going head to head, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, “…Chiapas” is more of a slice of life film about the Zapatistas themselves rather than the geopolitical situation between them and the Mexican government. In fact, with scenes of the Zapatista’s touchy-feely international peace rallies and snazzy internet postings contrasting sharply with shots of jack-booted Mexican storm troopers tromping down the streets, this film comes dangerously close to propaganda.
This slanted look at a revolution in progress ultimately gets caught in a sort of narrative no-man’s land because there’s no real conclusion to this story. Post-modern or not, the Zapatista uprising, like some low-key Kosovo in our own back yard, continues to this day.