Unlike familiar mainstream documentaries in which titles and an omniscient narrator tell us what to think about the images, Jesse Lerner's films create disparities between image and spoken text that encourage the viewer's active participation. While he focuses on the history of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula—which attempted to secede in the 19th century, had a socialist government briefly early in the 20th, and was host to a 1916 feminist congress—Lerner also implicitly makes connections to globalization: the Yucatan economy, historically based on the export of sisal fiber to the U.S., was devastated when the price of sisal collapsed. Combining shots of the area today, reenactments, archival footage, and a variety of texts—including the 1909 travel book describing the Yucatan in exotic terms that gives the film its title—Lerner creates a thought-provoking pastiche that doesn't shy away from exploring cross-cultural connections. As we learn that slavery was an essential part of the sisal economy, we see a patriotic march in the U.S. followed by a KKK rally, suggesting linkages whose ultimate lesson is that each of us is implicated in the fate of our fellow humans. 57 min.
By Fred Camper