Cinema Libre // 2007 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // September 25th, 2010
A town left behind is captured visually through the beauty of art.
From El Norte to Crossing Over, there is a long history of films and documentaries about the plight of impoverished Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States, and their experiences on this side of the border. What doesn't get much coverage is what happens to the villages the immigrants behind, many of which are nearly emptied out as the male population departs in search of employment.
2501 Migrants: A Journey isn't an immigrant story, but an emigrant story centered around Alejandro Santiago, a successful Mexican artist who left his hometown of Teococuilco in 1972, under very different circumstances from most of his fellow villagers. Returning home from France several years ago, Santiago was shocked at how desolate his village had become. 2,500 people, over half of its population, had left.
In the midst of this emptiness, inspiration struck. Santiago was moved to repopulate Teococuilco, with 2,501 clay statues, one for each of the absent villagers -- including Santiago himself. This monumental project would serve, not just art, but commerce. Over the years it would take to complete, Santiago would be able to employ many young men from the village, and help motivate people to remain in their community.
2501 Migrants weaves Santiago's efforts to complete his work with the stories of the men and women working for him, and his experience of returning home. As it turns out, Teococuilco isn't the ghost town Santiago once observed, but it's also far removed from what it once was.
Some of the migrants, having made a good living elsewhere, have returned to tear down many of the village's original houses and buildings and put up massive, impersonal new structures in their place. These "prodigal sons" see their wealth as giving them a say in governing the region, throwing local politics into disarray. The result is an odd vista; the occasional opulent villa among a barren landscape of empty houses. Many villagers who are as content with the migration -- and annoyed with Santiago's lamentations for a dying culture -- as those who share Santiago's concern.
2501 Migrants tells a compelling story, combining tragedy, hope, and humor. With depressing frequency, we see mothers speaking of sons and daughters who died attempting to cross the border (a double tragedy, since the families left behind must then pay to have the bodies of their children, who left because of their poverty, returned home). But we also see young men who have been inspired by their experience working on Santiago's ranch -- Santiago actually had to have animals trucked onto his land in order to attract the initially wary villagers to his project -- to become artists themselves.
If there's one disappointing aspect of 2501 Migrants, it's the limited scope. The documentary focuses necessarily on Santiago's efforts to complete his 2,501 statues -- a fascinating, and often dramatic story (as when a leaking roof ruins 300 of the statues) -- at the expense of the larger story; that of the migrations and their impact on small Mexican communities. This is understandable, but in the end the documentary only ends up whetting (not satisfying) my curiosity about a wholly unfamiliar facet of Mexican immigration.
Cinema Libre has given 2501 Migrants a decent DVD presentation, with clean Dolby 5.1 surround and a full frame transfer appropriate to this modest production. Extra features come in the form of deleted scenes and extended interviews which may not add a whole lot to the story, but do offer more glimpses of the people involved with Santiago's project. (One odd glitch: an interview segment with Santiago talking about his schoolboy days is repeated.)
With its unusual homecoming story of a successful Mexican artist and his unique and lasting gift, I'd recommend 2501 Migrants to anyone with a passing interest in the subject of art or Mexico.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Interviews
* Photo Gallery
* Alejandro Santiago: 2501 Migrants