Protesters on the streets of Mexico City, chanting, "You took them alive, we want them back alive." On Sept. 26, 2014, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School were apprehended by municipal police near Iguala, Guerrero and never seen again.
Filmmaker Charlie Minn—partially based in El Paso, Texas and the other half in New York—is screening his latest documentary, "43," which breaks down (as much as possible) what went down more than one year ago near the city of Iguala, Guerrero, after 43 students from Ayotzinapa were "arrested" by local policemen and never seen again.
Minn spent six months working in Mexico and the U.S., interviewing many of the students' family members, political experts and watching the heavy protests that took place shortly after the mass kidnapping—all demanding the government to investigate and reveal what happened the night of Sept. 26, 2014.
"It is pretty well known that the Mexican government is not trusted by the citizens," he says in a phone call with the Weekly. "During these protests, they have been called murderers."
On that September day, the 43 Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School students were trying to gather buses to travel to Mexico City for the annual protest on Oct. 2, marking the anniversary of the 1968 massacre of unarmed students in Tlateloco.
(According to The Guardian, the Ayotzinapa school "is part of an ambitious educational project set up in the 1920s, after the Mexican revolution, which sought to provide young men of marginalized rural backgrounds with specialized education. The idea was to combine academic subjects with practical knowledge on how to take care of the land, and to encourage social activism."
In short, people in the southern state of Guerrero—which is Spanish for "warrior"—have always had the reputation of not taking shit from the oppressive Mexican government. And speaking up, especially if it comes from the poorer, more marginalized citizens of the country, is seen as highly inconvenient by the latter.
That night, roughly 100 students left a bus station in Iguala with five buses. On their way back to Ayotzinapa, municipal policemen ambushed four of the buses, three were pulled over together. After the first attack, a group of students was detained and put in police cars. The other group of students was arrested after they arrived at the scene to try to help their other colleagues. At some point, the policemen start shooting the students. Then the other buses are attacked; more students are detained. It's reported that six students were killed at the scene, according to VICE.
In the days and months that followed, nearly two dozen municipal policemen were arrested, as well as former mayor of Iguala José Luis Abarca and his wife, who allegedly ordered the massacre and mass kidnapping. (Checkout this VICE timeline and Amnesty International write up to learn more.)
Only one of the students' remains has been found and identified. One of the stories that made it out is that the local drug cartel, local officials and law enforcement collaborated in the disappearance—that the kidnapped students were handed off to a drug gang to be killed and burnt in the nearby town of Cocula. A lot has been said, but there still hasn't been any solid evidence.
"I am afraid Mexico has to go through a revolution to get themselves out of this. The Mexican government has done a terrible job revealing to the country what exactly happened," Minn says. "The parents of the missing sons and daughters are adamant about getting answers. I can't express my sympathy enough."
One of the major reasons he dug into the tragedy is so that more people around the world, and especially in the United States, educate themselves on what is happening in Mexico—the drug violence and corruption, he says have been highly influenced by U.S. intervention and its citizens heavy illegal drug use. "Too many innocent people die," he adds. "You can't solve a problem if you are not aware. My films are about Mexican people who have been murdered, someone has to speak for these people, give them a much-needed voice."
"43" is screening starting Friday and for at least one week at Harkins Tucson Spectrum 18, 5455 S. Calle Santa Cruz (I-19 and Irvington). For showtimes, call 889-5588, or visit the Harkins website.