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Parents of Disappeared Mexican Students Are Furious Over Docudrama of the Case

The film dramatizes the government investigation's conclusion that the students were killed and incinerated in a rubbish dump after being accused of being members of a drug gang, a version the parents and international experts reject.
October 20, 2015, 2:15pm
Imagen vía film poster

Melitón Ortega's anger was obvious in his voice. "This is a provocation" he told VICE News in a telephone interview. "It's another example of the government trying to make our children look like criminals."

He was talking about La Noche de Iguala, or The night of Iguala, a new film that dramatizes the case of the 43 Mexican students whose disappearance a year ago triggered outrage across the country and beyond. Ortega's son, Mauricio, is among the missing students who came from the all-male Ayotzinapa teacher's college 160 miles away from the city of Iguala, Guerrero, where they went missing after being attacked by police on September 26, 2014.

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Related: Massive Mexico Protest for Missing 43 Students on Rainy Anniversary

The film shows municipal policemen and members of the local Guerreros Unidos drug cartel attacking the students. The young men are boarded onto trucks, interrogated, and confused with members of a rival drug gang known as Los Rojos. At the end they are killed and their bodies burned on a large pyre in a garbage dump.

The narrative closely follows the central argument of the government's investigation into what happened to the students that was presented by former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam last November as the "historical truth."

The parents of the missing students have always rejected this version of what happened to their children.

It was also largely discredited by a 560-page report on the investigation released last month by a special group of international experts formed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to study the case. The experts concluded that it was not credible that the students, who were in Iguala to commandeer busses to use in a protest, could have been mistaken for gang members. The report also said it was scientifically impossible that their bodies were incinerated in the dump.

Ortega, who was acting as spokesman for the parents, said he is convinced that The night of Iguala was filmed specifically to promote the official version.

"The hand of the government is behind this, it wants to destroy the memory of our sons," he charged. Instead of "using movies to spread their historical truth," he demanded that the government investigate the role of the army in the events that it has so far insisted is not relevant.

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Jorge Fernández Menéndez, a media commentator and expert in security issues who wrote the screenplay for the film, said he based the narrative on his own four-month investigation into the Iguala events.

"It is not the historical truth, or an alternative truth, it is an uncomfortable truth," he told Radio Fórmula last week. "Of the 80 minutes that the film lasts, less than 30 involve dramatization. The rest is a strict retelling of hard facts."

More than 200 actors took part in the film, playing the roles of the students, policemen from Iguala and the neighbouring town of Cocula, other local government officials and members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.

Produced in association with Proyecto 40, an affiliate of Mexico's second largest broadcasting networkTV Azteca, the film opened in Mexico City at the weekend with a small initial release of 30 copies. It is due to be released across the country in upcoming weeks.

The missing students' parents have called for a boycott of the film in the state of Guerrero, where it is due to hit theatres next Thursday.

Related: Survivors Describe Police Attack in Mexico: 'If You Moved, They Fired. If You Yelled, They Fired'

Student leader Omar García, one of the survivors of the attacks in Iguala, began a petition to stop the screenings.

"It is hypocritical on the part of a repressive government to hit us with this film that is so upsetting for the parents at the same time as it is offering to redo parts of the investigation," García told VICE News, referring to government promises of a new technical study into the evidence it originally claimed proved the students were almost certainly incinerated at the dump.

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Audiences were reportedly small during the film's first weekend in cinemas around Mexico City.

Georgina, a 23-year-old architecture student went to see the film with her boyfriend in the Cineteca, one of the best-known cultural outlets in the city. "I came out of curiosity," she said. "If they were really burned I want to know how it was done."

Jazmín went to see a late afternoon screening in a downtown movie theater with two friends. "I think that seems very realistic, sad but realistic," she said after seeing the film. "I can't believe someone would burn them for stealing busses."

Related: Widow of Ayotzinapa Student Whose Face Was Mutilated Is Still Waiting for Justice

Follow Melissa del Pozo on Twitter: @melissadps