Summary of the IAMHIST challenge event: “Audiovisual Representations of the Past. The Construction of Historical Narrative and Identity through Cinema and Television in Mexico and Ibero-America”

In 2016, the IAMHIST board decided to launch a yearly IAMHIST Challenge for early career researchers and professionals who are interested in setting up a local event on a media-and-history topic.

One of the winners was Adrien José Charlois and he sent us a short summary of the seminar that took place on March 24, 2017, from 10 am to 6 pm in Mexico City’s Casa Rafael Galván: “Audiovisual Representations of the Past. The Construction of Historical Narrative and Identity through Cinema and Television in Mexico and Ibero-America” (sponsored by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco, through the Postgraduate in Historiography coordination, and the International Association for Media and History (IAMHIST), through its program “IAMHIST-Challenge for early career Researchers and professionals “).

The main purpose of the seminar was to bring together academics from different disciplines to discuss the multiple relationships between audiovisual language and representations of the past in the region. Understood as ways of experiencing the temporal course, as well as proposals of memory in different contexts, national and transnational film and television products operated as specific cases to exemplify theoretical debates that have fueled research, but also to establish academic working lines for Mexico and Latin America.

The seminar was organized into two panels that brought together different academics, without the traditional dividing lines that have separated film studies from those focused on television. To inaugurate, we had as main speaker Professor María de los Angeles Rodríguez Cadena, Southwestern University, Texas, whose interests focus on the narratives of the collective past in Mexican television fiction, she spoke about the relations between the camera’s technical languages ​​and the construction of cultural memory. Through the concept of cinematic narrator, as a structuring principle of discourse, she evidenced the use of slow motion to enhance and give meaning to the representation of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez as a Mexican Independence hero in the TV series Gritos de muerte y libertad (Televisa, 2010). Starting from the use of this technical resource Professor Rodríguez evidenced changes in the temporal perception and in the role of the character in the general narrative of the series.

After a brief break, the first session began with a lecture by Prof. Danna Levín Rojo (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco) who analyzed the transformations in the American western, its complex relationship with the production context and the ideological positions allowed by the ambiguity and complexity of the cinematographic genre.

At the same session, Professor Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco) discussed the conformation of a notion of mexican history related to the appropriation, in cinematographic production, of various sources of the plastic arts. He reviewed the use of José Clemente Orozco’s painting as the main source for the creation of a representation canon of the Mexican Revolution in national cinema. Professor Ángel Miquel (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos) reviewed the birth of the Mexican Revolution’s Constitutionalist Movement representation through the silent documentaries produced in Mexico between 1913 and 1917 by Jesús H. Abitia and Salvador Toscano. Like Álvaro Vázquez, it was agreed that documentaries operated as seeds for the consolidation of a way of representing the Mexican armed movement.

In the following lecture, Professor André Dorcé Ramos (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Cuajimalpa) explained, through the concept of “mnemodrama”, the implications of melodrama as a way of narrating the past on television, materialized in the historical telenovela (mexican Soap Opera). Using El Carruaje (Televisa, 1972) as an example, he showed the representation of the consolidation of liberalism, as a national political project in the nineteenth century, through dramatic mechanisms that emphasize ethical and moral crossroads, which make relevant the tensions between the discursive regime of commercial television and that of History as an “objective” discourse.

After a break, the second session continued with the logic of presentations. Professor Ana Nahmad (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco) argued that history became an essential axis in Latin American political cinema of the 70s and 80s, both through historiographic reviews of the evolution of cinema itself and in historical discourses in the film works. At the center of it was a constant appeal to popular memory as opposed to official history. For its part, Master Israel Rodríguez (El Colegio de México) analyzed the role of Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littín, representative of the Nuevo Cinema Lationamericano movement, as an articulator of a narrative about Chile’s past, both as part of Salvador Allende’s socialist government and during his exile in Mexico. The work of Littín, which puts the Chilean nation as the protagonist, ended up potentializing national cinema and giving it an international dimension in the dialogue with other cinematographies.

At the same session, Master Fernando Gachuz (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Azcapotzalco) reviewed sequences of the documentary “Yo soy Joaquín” (1967), which, through fixed images and music, established a narrative about the origins and development of the Chicano identity, in the context of an Anglo-Saxon society. Between the pre-Hispanic origins and the chaos of modern American society, the documentary operated as a proposal of historical meaning, central in the articulation of the Chicano movement.

From the Universidad de Guadalajara, Professor Janny Amaya Trujillo, established theoretical lines to think cultural memory through the proposals of transnational fiction on streaming platforms. Trough the analysis of the production and transmission of Narcos (Netflix, 2015), she exposed the relations of history with transnational audiences, and the use of narrative resources as a form of prosthetic memory for both Latin America and the world.

Finally, Adrien Charlois (Universidad de Guadalajara), exposed the relation between historical agents in television fiction and the construction of a way to consider Mexican national society ideals. With the analysis of Gritos de muerte y libertad (Televisa, 2010), he reviewed the consolidation of ways to consider the agency from racial, cultural and political principles in a commemorative environment of the 200 years of Independence in Mexico.

The presentations given during the seminar allowed a space to discuss various aspects about the relationship between audiovisual media and history. On the one hand, the role of the media as generators of proposals for cultural memory in the region was discussed widely. Different speakers highlighted the need to historicize the specific products and cases, and to make the oppositions between the views placed in the text and their production and the evidence of the context of reception emphasized. Finally, the role that new technologies have played in revealing the tensions between the great narratives about the past and the emergence of multiple memories at national and regional level was highlighted. The seminar, supported by IAMHIST, allowed to open lines to continue investigating local audiovisual products, with a perspective on the construction of multiple memories.

Adrien José Charlois



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