Video played an invaluable role in the Ayotzinapa protest movement that erupted following the disappearance of 43 Mexican education students in late September 2014. From capturing the testimonies of the friends and families of the victims, to disseminating alternative information, and documenting police violence in protests – video provided an opportunity to tell a less-reported side of the story. One of the groups at the forefront of the action was Agencia Subversiones, an independent media collective. Seven months after the movement began, we reflected on the role of video in the struggle with Heriberto Paredes Coronel, a journalist and photographer with SubVersiones who covered the protests in the town of Ayotzinapa and other parts of the country.
Sarah Stein Kerr: How did you participate/How are you participating in the Ayotzinapa movement?
Heriberto Paredes Coronel: I started covering the events in Iguala (the town where the students when missing) and from there we extended our coverage to Ayotzinapa and Chilpancingo (the town where they were attempting to go protest). Above all I was focused on the contradictions between accounts given by the institutions, local political movements and the testimonies of other student teachers and family members.
Throughout the movement, Subversiones has provided timely coverage of the activities of the families of the disappeared students. In addition, we are investigating several things that we think are important about the case – from student violence in Guerrero to the links between organized crime and politicians, as well as the organized processes that were surfaced during this situation. We worked closely with the radio station at the teacher’s college, Voces Nuestras Voz de Todos radio (“Voice of All Our Voices radio), and gave workshops about how to use recording equipment and create radio stories.
How has video been used as part of the protest movement?
We’ve used video as a mechanism for the documentation of different stages in the student teacher movement. Video has been a fundamental tool for linking the themes of these stories with the political and social processes that came to pass following the disappearance of the 43 students. It has also served as a mechanism of diffusion and denunciation that goes beyond just a local context and can reach international audiences.
A video created by Subversiones showing testimony from two students from the teachers college.
Who is the target audience for your videos? How do you try to reach this audience?
We want to reach people who have very few options for content, for example people who only have access to commercial media. We want to reach people who do not have internet access and who are eager to access information and stories different than those presented by commercial media.
We host public projections in neighborhoods, cultural centers, and towns, and distribute our videos directly through various networks. We are about to begin a series of screenings at an alternative cinema in Mexico City, so we will have an audience to discuss and share ideas every month.
Have you see any new or innovative ways that video was being used as part of the movement?
Video has become incorporated into the act of social struggle and its expressive power is another tool that we can use, along with using video for documentation, for the purpose of analysis and denunciation. In the case of the Ayotzinapa movement, the student teachers have also used video to reflect upon their actions and this has changed the perception that they have of themselves and reinforced their unity.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in filming the Ayotzinapa protests themselves?
Accurately documenting human rights violations committed by police during clashes that they (the police) instigated. These clashes are some of the most difficult to document because of the level of risk but also because we don’t want to speculate, we try to stay away from sensationalism. The second challenge was how to build constructive and respectful communication with the families and other student teachers. We wanted to create an unbiased dialogue, and in this manner try to explain the reasons for the disappearance of the student teachers.
A video released by Subversiones showing protestors being removed from the zocalo in Mexico City. This video was featured on The Human Rights Channel as part of this playlist.
Did you learn any tips or tricks while filming that you can share with other video activists?
When recording clashes or similar situations, it is best to cautious and understand that no picture or video is worth jeopardizing your life, but you do need to know how to get as close as possible. Also, document the context around you and what happens in the areas of risk.
Speaking of risk, what precautions do you take to ensure your safety while filming?
I always try to establish local contacts before I begin working so that I can be accompanied at all times by someone from the place that we are covering. I am also constantly analyzing the situation with these contacts. I am cautious when working and always check before using a location or interviewing certain people. If I can’t work in a location at a certain time, I wait for the right time. I try to not drive on rural roads at night, to be discreet with my equipment, to have access to a phone, and to always have a cell phone with credit. Drinking is not allowed during shooting and drugs are absolutely prohibited.
Could you share one of your favorite or one of the most powerful videos that you have seen as part of these protests?
This video is of a protest put on by the student teachers where they all dressed up like clowns and protested to bring a bit of lightness to a very difficult situation.
Jose Luís Caicedo assisted with the translation of this post.