An Irish artist's quest for meaning in Mexico's capital of femicide
To facilitate the participation of victims’ families, Maguire held art workshops for children orphaned by the killings. The joy in doing so offered a reprieve from the despair that followed him through the project like a shadow. Nowhere is this better illustrated in Blood Rising than when Maguire offers condolence to one of the victim’s mothers, reaching for her hand in sympathy. The camera lingers uncomfortably, and in that moment the pain becomes tangible. Suddenly Juárez no longer seems so far away.
“There were intense levels of fear and emotion involved,” says Mark McLoughlin, the film’s director, explaining that, towards the end of the shoot, one of the cartels in Juárez issued blanket death threats to anyone caught filming. “You just can’t film anywhere exposed for more than five or 10 minutes. That’s how long it takes for people to make calls and get to you.”
Despite the dangers, McLoughlin and Maguire took their time in building reciprocal relationships based on respect. But the pacing was also a matter of maintaining their own emotional wellbeing. Even with the film completed, little details have stuck with them, and both have felt overwhelmed without warning.
“We spent months editing and becoming so deeply engrossed in this that it kind of kicks you, eventually,” says McLoughlin. “I don’t think the individual stories will ever leave me. The level of violence and suffering people go through there is totally beyond the radar.”
Elia Escobeda García has spent 11 years fighting for justice in the name of her daughter, Erika, who had two children of her own. Erika’s body was found in the street with a bra around her neck. There were strangulation marks and evidence of rape, but police concluded that her death resulted from a drug overdose. No investigation followed.
Speaking out poses its own danger, as campaigners are regularly targeted through acts of intimidation. But although Escobeda García lives in fear, she is determined to share the stories behind the pink crosses of remembrance dotted throughout Juárez. She will speak at screenings of Blood Rising by the human-rights organisation Front Line Defenders at Trinity College Dublin on Monday and at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway on Tuesday. A series of similar events is being planned internationally, aided by Gavin Friday, who composed the film’s soundtrack.
Last year, homicides in Juárez fell significantly – a relative stability attributed to the Sinaloa cartel’s seizing control of the city’s drug-trafficking routes. Even still, Blood Rising will leave viewers with serious questions about life in Juárez, the most urgent being, What can be done? The answer may be as difficult as making sense of the bloodshed. “But if any work makes people ask that question,” Maguire says, “then that’s the best you can achieve. You can build from there.”
Blood Rising closes the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival at the Savoy at 7.30pm tomorrow