Docudrama for the Emerging Postwar Order

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 film unit of the Unesco-sponsored adult education centre (CREFAL https://www.crefal.org) n 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.

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Figure 1. Film screening in a community in the Lake Pátzcuaro area. CREFAL archive, n/d. Mexico. Courtesy of CREFAL.

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.

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Figure 2. Hagen Hasselbach, Inauguración de CREFAL, 1951. Mexico. Frame grab.

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.

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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.

Figure 3: From the skies of Mexico (upper image) to the skies of Thailand (lower image). Paul Rotha and Basil Wright, World Without End, 1953. Mexico/Thailand/UK. Frame grab. Courtesy of CREFAL

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Figure 4. Treating Yaws with Penicillin in Thailand. Paul Rotha and Basil Wright, World Without End, 1953. Mexico/Thailand/UK. Frame grab. Courtesy of CREFAL.

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Figure 5. A CREFAL student teaches a Tarascan peasant to use DDT soap when washing clothes in the dirty lake water. Paul Rotha and Basil Wright, World Without End, 1953. Mexico/Thailand/UK. Frame grab. Courtesy of CREFAL.