Prepare to be disheartened, infuriated and heartbroken by Mexican documentary, Devil’s Freedom aka La Libertad del Diablo. A compelling five-year endeavor by director Everardo Gonzáles, the doc is a 74-minute confession of various harrowing stories told from the perspective of victims and perpetrators alike. Adorned in emotionally effective and disturbing skin colored masks, each person attests their agonizing horror directly into the camera. The film is in ways both a catharsis for the bereaved and disillusioned, and a harsh reality check for the world. This isn’t a fictional action film about the Mexican cartel. This is the abominable reality for the majority of Mexicans, who have been preyed on with the barbaric acts by those in power, or consequently lured in by power and money to commit such heinous acts.
LRM met with the amicable director in Berlin during last week’s Berlinale film fest, to talk about the making of his devastating doc and the numerous damaged souls with masked faces he sat across, to bring his doc to fruition. Gonzáles revealed the shocking actuality of everyday life in the Mexican streets, with no real hope in near site. However, if Colombia can overcome its number-one-murder-country status, there must surely be hope for Mexico as well. One can only pray that the confessions in Devil’s Freedom will draw the attention (especially that of Americans) it deserves to bring about the change Mexico so desperately longs for. Here is what Gonzáles had to say.
LRM: How did you manage to get all these broken people to come forward and speak about their horror? Their identity was protected by their masks, but tell me about the whole process of putting this documentary together.
Everardo: The mask is not only to protect identity; it is a theatrical exercise also. Yes the mask is something that reveals a lot of things. We think that it hides a lot of things, but we feel free when we are wearing a mask. If we are in an anonymous society then we have a sense of freedom. That's what I try to do with the mask; building freedom. That was one point, that one of the reasons why they decided to talk to me. The other reason is that I asked some of the people who have never been asked yet and allowing them to give their emotional point of view of the situation. I don't think that seriously in Mexico many people have asked a murderer, why? Why he's a murderer? How he became a murderer? What is the feeling of it? I think there are a lot of people who need to talk. Documentaries are kind of confessional solution, a catharsis. There is a healing thing also. I think that was the reason why they agreed to talk to me.
LRM: What was the reaction when you asked them to put those masks on and to see also each other wearing those masks because we see them looking at each other?
Everardo: It was also an exercise with mirrors, so we had mirrors so they could see their own reflection.
LRM: You mean with the camera?
Everardo: Yes it was in the camera, so they were watching their own reflection. With the masks they were looking only at their own eyes, so it was a self-confession also. It was real for them because it was like being alone, talking. Their reaction was like as they told me was a little bit of a liberating thing. For them it's something that happens with interviews, after two minutes or three minutes people forget about who guys were in the group and they start talking about feelings and emotions and those things. The masks helped and the mirrors helped and silence helped a lot also.
LRM: Why did you choose to start the testimonies with the younger girls?
Everardo: Well the choice was I wanted to let the youngest start the film because this is now a problem, which is happening to the youngest half. I wanted to first use as a main door for the film to see the youngest and they were women.
LRM: How do you think this documentary will be received in Mexico?
Everardo: I don't know how it will be seen, but I do expect that at least it provoke reflection about our own judgments, about the way we judge the other one. I do believe that in Mexico soon we will be talking about forgiveness or condemning. I hope this film in a way helps in order to push that confrontation, moral confrontation. Because it happened in Colombia, it happened in Serbia and Bosnia, it hasn't happened in Israel and Palestine, but I hope soon. It will happen in Mexico soon because even though there's a lot of people who deny a civil war, I do believe we have a Civil War in Mexico now. Every war has its truth commission later and that's the moment when we will start talking about forgiveness. I do believe that forgiveness can be one approach. It's not easy no?
LRM: Do you think with El Chapo’s capture, things will change or will the situation remain the same in Mexico?
Everardo: Yes, no he's just a CEO of an enterprise, even though he's in prison there will be another CEO for the enterprise. The main problem is hate, fear, division, and of course America noses because they are hungry for cocaine and Mexico is the provider of cocaine.
LRM: Columbia started it, Mexico's finishing it.
Everardo: Exactly. Bolivia started it, Mexico's finishing it, and the US is the biggest nose in the rest of the world. The other problem is that the US has a policy of guns that is bringing a lot of problems in Mexico even though they don't like to accept it. Because mostly all of the guns that are in Mexico come from the US. I think that it won't change until the US accepts that problem, until the whole US sees drugs in Mexico as a health issue and not a criminal issue. Maybe that's a path for finding a solution, but at this point I don't think it will be over soon. Not at all, not at all, because Afghanistan is far and we provide heroine and opium also. Afghanistan is far; Mexico is close so it's just a market reason.
LRM: Maybe they should make it legalize it like they are doing with Marijuana?
Everardo: Exactly. They want to legalize, they should legalize everything. Because marijuana is not the problem. It is cocaine, it is meth also, and it is heroine. If legalization doesn't happen soon, Mexico will be the provider of dead bodies. The US also, no?
LRM: In regards to Sicarios, what is your relationship to those people who are basically killers and how was it for you to film them?
Everardo: Well my relationship was through improve all the time, because I think that it's easy to judge extreme decisions when you don't have to take it. In a way I think that the main problem as I said is fear and hate. If you are really afraid of something, we all are capable to commit atrocities. I think that we all are capable of that. These are our kids, we cannot justify them but I do not want to judge them, I'm not a judge. What I should do is at least is to have an emotional approach to their thoughts and their feelings, and give them the chance if it's a -- I know it sounds arrogant, but give them a possibility to think about it. Nobody has asked them why are you doing this? Why did you do it? Enough not based in the violent action but in the feelings. "Why did you keep on doing it if you knew it was wrong?" and then I heard a terrible answer. It was a great answer for the few but it was a terrible situation when a kid says, 'Well, I realize that I have already killed them," then my question was, "What's next?" I crossed the line and that's one of the reasons of why these kids keep on doing it. Following also, remember that moment when the kid says that he got an Audi A4? That Audi A4 is the main reason of violence. This system, economical system, this idea of having and having and having, possession of power and power and power, in a really unfair society as a Mexican, Latin American, African, European.
This is what you get, kids that want everything also because they think they deserve it, and why not if everyone has been telling you for years that if you don't have it then you are nothing. When you are 15, when you are 14 finding your own path, your own way and if you come from a system where everything is confused, there's no problem for kids to commit a murder, and that's a terrible thing. If it's happening in Mexico or in El Salvador for example, if we start to fear the kids, that is something that is happening now in Mexico, I think we don't have a lot of choices, which is a scary thing.
LRM: Will there ever be any justice for some of these victims?
Everardo: I don't think they will get justice now because prison does not give peace and I don't think that, I'm sorry to tell that but I don't think that they will come back. They live in a different world now, pain is something that pushes you to live in a different world and I believe that these people, victims and perpetrators now live in a different world because they were forced to cross the line, and that's a terrible thing for that people who make the decisions are responsible for.
I'm talking about politicians, for example I'm talking about Donald Trump, seeding fear and seeding anger and seeding hate, that's what you get, that is what you get.
LRM: What I don't understand is why so many innocent people are kidnapped and violated so brutally without any sort of reason?
Everardo: That's the devil's freedom. It's something that has been growing evil, so they do it because they can.
LRM: It's just pure hate?
Everardo: Pure hate and pure impunity, because they can and that's a terrible thing. It's not about guilt or innocence, it is about a hate that has been growing and that's been growing, and to escape all of this, in order to release that hate, that's why we are so afraid. We've seen it in the US with all these officers beating civilians, all these officers raping because they have the power to do it. It's not just a Mexican issue, it is a problem that is growing and growing. It is just the same thing as the Nazis torturing someone just because they could do it.
LRM: It's that uniform, just like one of the killers in the film said. It's a power trip. How can a human being can commit such heinous acts on another human being and watch them suffer without any emotion? It makes you wonder, what is going on with humanity? It’s the same issue with politics and US now. What are people thinking when they're voting for this man filled with so much hate?
Everardo: Well, they voted with hate. They voted with angry feelings also. They thought that life wasn't fair with them. They voted the dream. That's an amazing, crazy thing, but they have their own reasons. Society may be happy and not fair with them also in a way, no? Because the US for example, is a country that has been hiding their poverty. We do not think about the US citizens as poor people. Poorest we think about are always in Latin America, Africa, or Asia, but not the US. They live with hate. We are all scared about it. I have a US passport. I hope I can keep it.
LRM: Especially for you guys you're in Mexico. What do you think about that wall?
Everardo: There is already a wall. It's just the same wall. It's a message sent to the rest of the world. Mexican border and that wall is just a symbol of what he thinks about migration. In the moment when people need to move…the world already exploded…people are forced to move because there's no place to live in. What's the responsibility of the first world with it? The US is a first world. Power of the US has been based in other people's wounds. Yes? In a way, first world is responsible also for that. Citizens in the first world do not realize that their benefits are based in blood sometimes.
I think migration will keep on going and going and going. If it is because of the drought, people will move. If it is because of hunger, they will move, and if it is because you have your family in the US and you are a Mexican, then you have to move. You have your grandmother there or have other people who live in Texas who are Mexicans. Remember Mexico was Texas. There are a lot of families that lived on the border; it’s like an imaginary thing.
LRM: Can you talk a little bit about the sound design?
Everardo: They had an idea that I really liked, it was working sound as a subjective ambiance atmosphere. Things were happening in the heads of the people. Because we realized that these people are not longer here with us.
They are now living in different world. I don't know to say it. That was the main goal with the sound design. Making you as a spectator, realize that it was real but that in a way it was a physical situation. Yes. Voices around and bells around and echoes around, and far voices. That was the goal for sound design.
LRM: Have you ever been affected by all of this personally? Living in Mexico, do you live in fear day by day because of what's going on?
Everardo: No you cannot live in fear day by day. You cannot live like that. But of course it touched me a lot and of course it hurt me a lot. It's not easy to bring home stories like that everyday and to us-- I've been in this film for five years, so for me it’s a release, to screen here in Berlin, is like something that you have to lose.
LRM: You were their therapist.
Everardo: Now I'm not. Now I go to a therapist. I needed to go to therapy and everything. I'm part of it. I have also post-traumatic syndrome also. You cannot be the same one after, because a film is a film but then in a way you're talking to all these people without a film so the film was just a result of it but yes, its not easy. I am not trained for it.