MEXICO CITY – A documentary film’s trailer showing the incineration of dozens of Ayotzinapa students at a municipal waste dump has sparked controversy in Mexico, where protesters suspect the movie will uncritically present the government’s version of what happened to those teacher trainees.
The film, titled “La noche de Iguala,” premiered Friday at 30 theaters despite a petition by a group of citizens to block its release out of respect for the memory of the 43 students, who went missing in that southern Mexican city on the night of Sept. 26, 2014.
A signature drive has been started on Change.org for a petition addressed to the production company Proyecto40, which uploaded the trailer to its YouTube account; the movie theater chains Cinepolis and Cinemex, where the film will be screened; and Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Raul Quintanilla, the film’s producer and director, respectively.
The petition, which already has more than 1,650 signatures, aims to ensure that the “truth prevails” and that respect is shown to the “memory of the fallen, the injured ... the parents, mothers, sons, daughters, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, and for all those who were directly or indirectly affected by that tragic night.”
It calls for the project to be canceled, saying it is telling a version that “has been proven to be false.”
“In doing so, they are distorting reality and discrediting the serious investigations that have been carried out, reinforcing many people’s ignorance, supporting the government’s lie and criminalizing the victims,” it added.
Police attacked the trainee teachers from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teachers training institution in the state of Guerrero, after they had commandeered (the students’ peers say “borrowed”) buses in the nearby city of Iguala that they had planned to use to travel to Mexico City for a protest.
Six people – including three students – were killed and 43 other students abducted that night.
Federal authorities say the incident was the work of corrupt municipal cops acting on the orders of a corrupt mayor with connections to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.
The cops handed over the students to cartel gunmen, who killed the young people and burned their bodies to ashes at a garbage dump in the nearby town of Cocula, according to the official story.
But the parents of the missing students and their supporters reject that account, and last month a group of independent experts commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report that cited a series of irregularities in the investigation.
Among other things, the experts said in their report – released on Sept. 6 and based on six months of field work, interviews and a review of the government’s evidence and conclusions – that “no evidence exists to support the theory” that 43 bodies were incinerated at the dump on Sept. 27, 2014, the day after the students disappeared.
Indeed, the report said the evidence gathered at the site showed there was not enough fire to burn even one body, the report said.
The experts also corroborated news reports indicating that federal police had been monitoring the students since they left Ayotzinapa for Iguala and at the very least knew that they had come under armed attack yet did not intervene.
During the screening of the film on Friday at the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City, a group of people entered the theater and stood in front of the audience with banners stating that what they were about to watch was “the historical lie,” a reference to the government’s version of events in January, which it touted at the time as the “historical truth.”
Fernandez Menendez, a journalist who is the film’s producer, told EFE that he was surprised that a campaign had been launched to prevent people from viewing the movie “when (the protesters) don’t even know yet what it contains.”
“Before material can be judged ... you have to see it first. That seems to me a basic criterion,” he said, denying that the film had received any government funding.
Fernandez Menendez, who has written several books about drug trafficking and violence in Mexico, said the documentary was driven by the purely journalistic motive of telling the story of a “paradigmatic case of how drug trafficking ends up influencing the political sphere, committing savage crimes and including all types of groups.”
The idea for the film began to take shape when the version of the incinerated bodies at the waste dump still prevailed, several months before it was rejected by the IACHR-commissioned team.
In the coming days, the Mexican government will carry out a new investigation of the site of the alleged incineration in tandem with a group of international experts.