Silencio radio: documenting the strength of Carmen Aristegui

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In 2015, the Mexican filmmaker Juliana Fanjul she was angry. Mexico was going through a complicated moment, between the educational reform, the pain caused by the disappearance of the 43 normalistas, the murder of journalists and a PRI six-year term that stood out for its cynicism. In the midst of it all, however, there was a silence that Fanjul found unacceptable: the voice of Carmen Aristegui it was impossible to tune.

The journalist had been fired from the MVS radio network, after a report that she and her team published in 2014 about a suspicious millionaire residence that the presidential family had in their possession and that showed a maximum conflict of interest. “The white house of Enrique Peña Nieto”, won journalistic awards, but also provoked the censorship of the communicator and her team in the form of an unjustified dismissal, by a company that depended on a large amount of government advertising. Aristegui, recognized as one of the leading voices in independent journalism, went off the air.

Juliana Fanjul, who lives in Switzerland, then traveled to Mexico to find and portray the owner of that voice, who served as a bridge to understand what was happening in her country and who was now fighting to return to her audience independently. This is how his documentary was born radio mute, which opened the exhibition Ambulant at Home in 2020. “We were experiencing a tremendous moment in Mexico,” the filmmaker tells us. “The disappearance of the 43 normalistas had been a few months before and suddenly they cut off Carmen Aristegui’s microphone, when she had perhaps been the first to bring the voices of the relatives, of Omar García and company. We were trying to understand how we got there. That suddenly they cut off that voice made me very indignant and I went to look for it.”

radio mute

However, finding the journalist at first was not easy. Without a clear idea of ​​how to contact her, the filmmaker investigated the location of the CNN offices, where the journalist still had a program. “I told three lies at the reception and I got on as best I could,” he confesses with a laugh. “There I found a cameraman alone and I gave him a letter for Carmen, in which I explained my desire to make a film. That was followed by weeks of great tension. I knew that if that didn’t work it was all over. And it was a big problem because I already had the Swiss producers, in love with the story. I had already told them that I knew Carmen and that she had already told me yes. Fortunately, I later received an email from his production company and he finally said yes.”

radio mute It required five years of documentary work, during which the filmmaker gained the trust of the journalist and her team. “Every time I saw her, I made an effort for her to see that what I was doing is exactly what I was doing, that I did not intend to reveal her private life or anything,” says Fanjul, who instead portrays a professional everyday life without any kind of truce We see Aristegui as he tries to set up his own independent television studio, engages in legal battles, dodges lawsuits, receives threats and temperately watches the images from the security cameras of his newsroom, which show how two subjects enter at dawn to take a of the computers.

Above all, the documentary gets into the newsroom and allows us to meet the rest of the journalists who make up the team: professionals who are out of the limelight, and out of the fragile bubble of protection that being Carmen Aristegui entails, but who face the same risks and threats. “I don’t deserve to die for my work,” one of the Aristegui Noticias reporters declares to the camera, with a lump in his throat. It does so to a current audience, whose pandemic context remains hostile to its press and blind to the conditions they live in.

“At all times it seemed to me that they also had to be part of the story. Carmen always says it: I am part of a group of journalists. They are also at risk, living the weight of being watched and threatened. Perhaps more afraid than her,” says Juliana, who chooses as the opening sequence a demonstration caused by the murder of Sinaloan journalist Javier Valdez, which Carmen Aristegui attended. “Working with that stress for years every day is a very admirable thing. It is exhausting. And it doesn’t bring the recognition it should. On the contrary, his work arouses more criticism and isolation, to protect himself. Many harsh consequences to their personal lives”, reflects Fanjul.

radio mute

Far from making an accurate and exhaustive report of events or battles faced by the team of journalists, the documentary chooses the perspective of someone who, rather, wants to understand the mystery at the center of their resilience: what makes them continue? The filmmaker inserts a narrative in the first person, which provides context, injects subjectivity and easily aligns with that of the audience: one of anger, exhaustion and deep hurt. This one runs up, however, with the apparently invincible push of Aristegui and his journalists.

“That challenged me from the beginning: how did you maintain that desire and that energy in that reality?” Fanjul confesses to us. “I am someone much more pessimistic than Carmen herself. I was interested to know where he got that optimism. She answers it herself. It is almost a moral obligation. I think that’s how one should be, a radical, a dreamer. I think she’s a great romantic, despite everything.”

«You cannot speak of little freedom of expression, nor of ‘too much’ freedom of expression. Either there is or there isn’t,” reflects the filmmaker.

radio mute hits theaters on Thursday, January 20, 2022.

trailer of radio mute

The entry Silencio radio: documenting the strength of Carmen Aristegui was first published in Cine PREMIERE.

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