Documentary Film Workshop with Itzel Martínez del Cañizo

Eric Cheung, Norito Hagino, Julie Matsumoto

The vision of the director of Que Suene la Calle

On the last day of our trip we visited El Lugar del Nopal, a cultural center located in Tijuana. There we met with Itzel Martinez del Cañizo who is the documentary filmmaker of Que Suene La Calle. Through her project, Itzel intended to uncover the lives of street children in Tijuana whose realities were drastically different from her own. Her film follows the lives of these kids who have fallen victim to drugs, prostitution, and delinquency. Most of them come from a background of abuse and abandonment and have turned to the streets as their only viable alternative. After three years of filming, her documentary proved to be a success in sharing the lives of the children to a wider Mexican audience; yet, Itzel also faced many frustrations by the end of project, as no true change had come about for many of the kids she filmed.

Itzel describes the filmmaking process of Que Suene la Calle as a fluid one shaped greatly by the subjects themselves. She allowed the children to pick up the cameras and explore on their own what to film. Interestingly, while the boys used the cameras to play around, the girls had immediately turned the cameras on themselves. Thus, the main focus naturally fell on the girls who had shown greater interest and commitment to the project. Though Itzel kept in mind her primary role as a filmmaker, she became personally invested in the lives of the children. To film them would be to gain their trust and be accepted as more than just an outsider looking in.

In her following project, Itzel documented the lives of male convicts confined to a detention center. She placed herself into a vulnerable position by being a young woman amongst the convicts; yet her very status as a female gave her a non-threatening air, allowing the men to truly open up their lives to her. In the documentary, she had them share their dreams and imagine a world they would live in unrestricted by their current realities. Thus, the focus would not be on their past but rather on their hopes. Through this project she was able to reveal and understand their humanity beneath hardened exteriors.

Through watching the film and personally meeting with Itzel, our class gained great insight into the world of documentary filmmaking. It revealed to us the extensive process involved in which ethics and subjectivity cannot be removed. We also learned that while documentaries are helpful in sharing the realities of lives separate from our own, there are also unintended consequences in which the film’s subjects are made vulnerable through their exposure to the public eye.

During the interview, Itzel spoke to us in her native language of Spanish, which Professor Crowder-Taraborrelli gave a summarized translation of in English. The following is a transcription of the interview.

Itzel shares with us one of her various reasons for starting the project, Que Suene la Calle:

“…parto de que todos los trabajos que he hecho siempre hay una conexión personal aunque no se vea. Un interés que va de la mano con mi proceso personal. Que Suene la Calle no tiene nada que ver con mi vida, ni con mi experiencia, ni con mi aproximación a la ciudad. O sea, yo no soy de aquí, soy de la ciudad de México. Bueno, llegue aquí para hacer la primaria. Entonces, me he ido y regreso… Aquí hay como una comunidad cultural artística grande, como muy efervescente y también como muy unida. Y hay siempre como una preocupación por la ciudad y lo que de la ciudad sale. Un poco como la mirada desde el periodismo, desde [una prensa] muy amarillenta donde la ciudad tiene una mala reputación. Entonces, como que siempre desde la arte hay un interés en ver que la ciudad también propone otro tipo de cosas y hay otro tipo de imaginario aquí adentro. A mi me interesaba precisamente lo contrario. O sea yo decía si, estos discursos amarillistas de la cuidad y todo son parte de ella pero yo he construido mis veinte años aquí y yo esa realidad no la conozco. No tengo elementos desde donde contarla. O sea, voy a las grandes y grandes y grandes colonias que crecen y crecen anualmente en esta ciudad y soy una turista. No conozco lo que es vivir esta Tijuana.”


“In all her projects Itzel always tries to find a personal connection with the project she is working on. Although she was born in Mexico City, she came to Tijuana when she was attending her first year of high school. She’s been back and forth and she knows the city quite well. But the reality that these street kids live in, she had no connection with it. So her challenge was always “how do I find a connection with this reality I don’t know”. On top of that, Tijuana is a city that is heavily represented in the media, not only in Mexico but internationally and has a really bad reputation. So, the challenge then became greater because she had to connect with a population she didn’t really know and understood very well, and also present a vision of Tijuana that is a counterpoint to the representations in the media.”

Itzel elaborates on the selection process for the participants in her film:

“Entonces, fue un poco como permitir que el tiempo pase, como invertir todo ese tiempo… Y pues, utilizar todos los recursos que ellas mismas vayan permitiendo. La metodología yo la tenía diseñada pero obviamente podía variar dependiendo de las condiciones y situaciones…Yo daba al grupo de mujeres y al grupo de hombres por igual. O sea, yo quería explorar las dos posibilidades y ver… No tenía delimitados al principio que iba a hacer con las mujeres con las que iba a trabajar. Los hombres eran como muy evasivos…. o sea, utilizaban la cámara como para divertirse. Y las chicas inmediatamente volteaban las cameras hacia sí. Se exploraban el cuerpo, los pies, las manos, la cara. Empezaban a interactuar con la cámara. Empezaban dirigir situaciones… “A ver ponte enfrente. A ver así”. Pues eso fue como una ganancia muy grande …empezar a voltear la cámara para sí.”


“[In the beginning] she didn’t know that she was going to end up working with women as her central protagonists in her documentary. But when she gave them the camera, she noticed that the boys used the camera to “play around with” while the women immediately started filming parts of their body, immediately turning the camera to themselves. All the boys were filming mostly other objects, not themselves.

Itzel talks about her project after Que Suene la Calle, in which she asked her participants-, incarcerated males- to dream up a world they would like to live in:

“Fue bien revelador. Yo no sabía con qué me iba a encontrar. Yo dije ‘vamos a diseñar su ciudad. ¿Como les gustaría que sea? ¿Que haríamos?’… No se generaron las circunstancias como para llegar al punto en donde ellos les interesaran [el proyecto], que se hicieran participes y se comprometieran con el proyecto.

Y de allí, ¿a dónde íbamos? No sé. […] Y fue muy interesante, impactante, ¿no? Yo salía de allí en shock todos los días cuando me daba cuenta de la ternura que había adentro de estos hombres.

Un hombre que había estado siete años en prisión que tiene unas lágrimas tatuadas, que tiene una simbología, ¿no? Cada lágrima es como un hombre que tú has matado y todo esto. Había como una conexión muy especial. Platicábamos muy bien sin yo meterme demasiado Él de repente ha soltado muchas de sus vivencias pero no era por allí que a mi me interesaba llegar. Y él se diseñó como un doctor interesado por la comunidad y su nombre era Bambi.”


“Itzel says that it was incredibly revealing, this whole process was incredibly revealing because she didn’t know what to expect. She was asking them to propose something to her and for the group. Then everything that came out was sort of a surprise for her. Everyday she would leave this place shocked, moved by the tenderness that some of these men had inside.

There was one guy who had tears, tattooed tears in his cheeks, tattoos that are full of symbolism. He started to talk about his past experiences but she was not interested in that, she was interested in what she proposed him to think about. She says that in the game she proposed, he portrayed himself as a doctor, a very responsible doctor interested in the community and his nickname was Bambi.”

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