Luis Mandoki and the Presidential Election

DVD cover of documentary. (©2006 Luis Mandoki)

Premiering just weeks away from the Mexican presidential elections set for July 2, Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki began showing in Hermosillo on June 9 his anticipated documentary "Quien es el senor Lopez?" ("Who is Mr. Lopez?"), which follows the life of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mandoki is an accomplished Hollywood director with hits such as "White Palace" (1990), "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994) and "Message in a Bottle" (1999). His first film "Silent Music" (1975), won the award for Best Short Film in Cannes, 1976. For "Motel" (1983), he received the Ariel for Best Feature Film in 1984. And with "Gaby, Una Historia Verdadera" ("Gaby, A True Story" 1987), actress Norma Aleandro was nominated for an Oscar and two Golden Globes. He has directed actors such as Paul Newman, Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Andy Garcia, and Meg Ryan.

After living outside Mexico for 15 years, he went back to his home country to make "Voces Inocentes" (Innocent Voices), a critically acclaimed work that earned eight awards and nine nominations at such prestigious film pageants as the Berlin Festival (2005), the Stanley Framer Award given by the Producers Guild of America, and the Seattle Film Festival.

In April, he announced the release of "Who is Mr. Lopez?," a documentary originally planned to be a portrait of the presidential election. But P.R.I.-P.A.N. politicians wanted to edit the finished product and only the leftist P.R.D. (Party of the Democratic Revolution) gave Mandoki unrestricted freedom to follow Obrador. He began filming in March last year during the shameful and failed impeachment when the "perredista" was mayor of Mexico City. The film's chapters are constantly uploaded into the official campaign Web site of Obrador and its author gave the rights to allow free reproduction and distribution of both computer files and official DVDs. Each chapter is filmed with exquisite music, a sober and coherent edition, solid arguments, documented facts, and a fine sense of humor. And the movie portrays a shaken country and a long struggle for power, so vicious, but exciting like any American election captured by the media.

As part of the promotional activities of "Mr. Lopez," Mandoki engaged in an intense tour across several cities of the Mexican Republic. In his press conference at the Center for the Arts, he answered several questions from reporters. Mandoki said he was charging no money for this work and is doing it just for patriotism; he even sacrificed the production of a movie called "Winged Boy" last spring.

Luis Mandoki. (©2006 Erich Moncada)

Being a Los Angeles resident for more than 10 years, he acknowledged the great democratic values of the American people by receiving support in his temporal time off from Hollywood and the many people who applauded his activism. He also gave an exclusive, announcing his next film would be about the mythical character "La Santa de Cabora" ("The Cabora Saint"), with the recent acquisition of the rights to the book "La Hija del Colibri" ("Daughter of the Hummingbird"), written by Luis Alberto Urrea.

At 4 p.m., he did a presentation at the same venue in front of a crowded audience. In his opening speech, he declared he met Lopez Obrador during the "desafuero" (impeachment) days, and that the intensity of the attacks against the P.R.D. party candidate was intriguing. While getting to know Obrador he became surprised "by the abyss between all the negative things said about him and who this person really is … amid all the disinformation, it was important to communicate the facts."

About the documentary, he said it was "not a campaign instrument, is not a proselytism tool. I'm not saying who you should vote for. What is important is to know the truth; it is an invitation to thinking and from there the people can make a smart voting decision."

When talking about threats against his life for supporting the leftist candidate, Mandoki denied them and said with modesty his contribution was too small. For his inspiration, the filmmaker credited Mexico's primordial society well rooted to the "decades of a one-party dictatorship." He assured that Mexicans have developed a "culture of skepticism … because for a long time we've been lied to, they make us promises and betray us … they stole everything … and they have shattered our hearts, so it's hard to believe them again."

He justified his devotion to Obrador, sometimes making exaggerated compliments about him by saying he has a "lie detector."

"Because when I work with actors like Paul Newman I know when they are faking it; I know when they are telling me something that is not from within, truthfully."

Regarding freedom of expression and society's freedom to choose without coercion, he criticized the black campaign of the National Action Party against Obrador.

"The way to have a strong freedom of expression is that each and every one of us must say what we think. I can sense a lot of fear, for example, in the polls. A lot of people are scared of saying 'I will vote for Lopez Obrador'; they hide their votes; there is still a lot of fear. But we're going to change that when each and every one of us says what we think regardless of anything."

He mocked the massive shopping of documentary copies from the P.A.N. party, saying Obrador adversaries "were doing it wrong" by getting 20,000 copies from newsstands, while his team strategically organized a citizen-based, independent distribution network. By this month, they sold over 2 million copies, without counting the homemade copies made by the public. He highlighted that when DVDs were sold out at main stores and newsstands, a telephone line was opened to coordinate a citizen network of more than 250 nodes to send, without any charge, "an average of 30,000 to 40,000 DVDs across the country, creating in just three weeks a structure more effective, superior and efficient than all the distribution networks of Hollywood studios working in Mexico."

The low cost of the video, at less than $2 each, wasn't aimed at receiving big earnings but to make affordable printing of more copies.

"After the July elections, the money leftover will not go to my pocket, or the party, but the victims of Chiapas state recent hurricanes," Mandoki said.

At the end of his presentation, Mandoki left in a rush towards the airport to travel to Mexico City and continue editing "Mr. Lopez." Despite a highly publicized visit of President Vicente Fox to Hermosillo that day and a change of schedule for Mandoki's appearance, more people kept showing up into the Center for the Arts after 5 p.m. They sold out more than 300 copies of the first part of the documentary.

On the road to the airport, this reporter asked the filmmaker some questions. About the possibility of an electoral fraud, he said he fears votes will be manipulated, like the P.R.I. party did in the past.

Regarding the left-wing position of interviewees on video, he said: "I tried to interview all [party leaders] but they didn't want to talk, so I cannot put a gun to their heads and a camera in front of their faces … We make daily interviews but we can only ask questions to those who open their doors."

I asked him about the legitimacy of Mexican journalism and he recalled a conversation with news anchor of Televisa, Carmen Aristegui, in which she said the duty of an artist or intellectual should be separated from power with objectivity. Mandoki said to her that it is more than a duty; it was an option to avoid a totalitarian way of thinking.

"There are plenty of other journalists that have come out [in favor of a candidate] because they want to communicate what others don't say and it's also valid," he said.

The director's personality has nothing to do with an eccentric diva; on the contrary, it has a surprising simplicity and humility. Maybe the most outstanding of his convictions is not a feverish desire to improve his country supporting a particular candidate, but his appetite to stimulate people's participation in political issues; a clear reflection of many citizens who know perfectly well this very well could be our last chance to make a difference.

"Quien es el senor Lopez?" has become a basic tool to understand contemporary history and a great educational resource to new generations and foreigners who ignore Mexico's vibrant political life. For a country on the verge of celebrating 100 years of a revolution (2010), Mandoki's role should not be a surprise. In the early days of the Revolution documentaries, it was common to see stories about Pancho Villa, Francisco I. Madero, Alvaro Obregon, and Venustiano Carranza. All of them, except Villa, later become presidents of the nation.

Expect in the coming months an English version of the documentary for the United States and Europe.

From OhmyNews International.