By David J. M. Wood
This article focuses on the productive tensions between the competing ideological discourses of postwar internationalism, Mexican postrevolutionary nationalism and local indigenous representational paradigms in the activities of the audiovisual division of the Unesco-sponsored adult education centre (CREFAL https://www.crefal.org) in the town of Pátzcuaro, Mexico in the 1950s, which combined village screenings of educational, promotional and informative movies from the world over, with the local production of pedagogical documentary shorts by nonprofessional filmmakers from across Latin America.
During CREFAL’s first decade (1951–61) – the centre’s most energetic period of documentary film production and exhibition – regular film screenings were organized both at the Pátzcuaro premises and at external locations both on the mainland and in the Purépecha island communities of the lake region. The uses of cinema at the centre were manifold: as well as serving as a didactic instrument in the field, screenings at CREFAL’s headquarters aimed to raise students’ awareness of social issues, to improve their understanding of cinema as an educational tool and to reinforce their sense of belonging to a progressive international community of educators. […] CREFAL students and Purépecha spectators were conceived as engaged interlocutors – albeit within a hierarchical relationship – rather than passive viewing subjects.
The Danish filmmaker Hagen Hasselbach – the first head of CREFAL’s audiovisual division – made a silent 16mm colour short film documenting CREFAL’s inaugural event on 9 May 1951.
The most internationally celebrated title to be produced (in part) at CREFAL was the UNESCO-sponsored documentary feature World Without End (Paul Rotha and Basil Wright, 1953), released in Spanish as Tiempo de la esperanza. The picture – a paean to global cooperation and brotherhood – was filmed simultaneously by two veteran British documentary filmmakers of the Griersonian school: Paul Rotha at CREFAL in Pátzcuaro, and Basil Wright in Bangkok and other locations across Thailand. […] Shot with local crews in both countries in late 1952, World Without End intersperses scenes from the two nations in an attempt to forge a sense of common purpose amongst the peoples of vastly different nations of the developing world.