Robyn Gee on Wednesday, Sep. 21st
Journalism students who walked into Professor Pat Davison’s multimedia and digital storytelling class at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism in January, were faced with a huge challenge. International reporting has long been a staple of their program, and this year, the students were teaming up with students at Tecnólogico de Monterrey in Mexico City to create documentaries about life in Mexico. However, the class was mandated to stay away from the drug war for safety reasons.
After racking their brains for angles to take, one student said, “I don’t think we should try to avoid [the drug war], instead we should make it our focus and look at everything beyond the drug war.” This is how the project “Reframing Mexico” began.
“All you hear from Mexico are negative headlines and the drug war, but there’s a lot more to it than that. This was a good broad umbrella. The goal was to paint a picture of Mexico City that goes beyond headlines,” said Davison.
The class’s final project ended up being recently re-published in the Washington Post. It is a series of short documentaries that zero in on a character–each one highlights an issue that the group wanted to tackle. Davison’s students partnered with students in a documentary journalism class at Tecnólogico de Monterrey, and the teams worked to find contacts for the stories. Davison’s class only had eight days in Mexico City to do the physical reporting, not much time to counteract the unpredictable.
“Free To Love” — Megan Camm
Megan Camm, a Master’s student in the UNC journalism program, had planned to report on the religious ceremony of Santa Muerte. But the story required being in a dangerous neighborhood. “My Mexican partners didn’t feel comfortable spending the time we needed,” said Camm. So she ended up working on the story of Tania, a mother raising her baby in prison.
The short video tells the story of Tania Yuridia Granados Monroy speaking about what it was like to raise her baby in prison, without the help of her mother or grandmother. Mothers are allowed to raise their children in prison until the age of six. But the film noticeably leaves out Tania’s crime.
According to Camm, there were many unexpected restrictions and several people who worked at the prison were present during the interview. “We’d been told you get two days of full access, but when we got there, they only gave us a one hour interview. They told us we couldn’t ask about why she was in prison, or her crime,” said Camm. “I asked her why she was in prison, she responded it was related to kidnapping charges…I wanted her to elaborate, but they wouldn’t let her talk about her case at all,” said Camm.
“They said that because the story was about being a mother in prison, I could only ask questions about being a mother,” said Camm. While she was in the prison, she was not allowed to shoot footage freely. “We were strictly controlled the whole time. They didn’t allow us in the second day, they took away our access,” she said.
But according to Camm, the prisoners seemed comfortable with the documentary team being there. Tania was more than willing to let Camm shoot footage of her and her baby, if the prison had allowed it.
Looking back on the experience, Camm thinks Tania’s story raises important questions about child development. “I didn’t know that there were any prisons that allowed mothers to have their children…Is it better to be with the mother in prison…versus the foster system? I think those are really important questions especially for the children who are in the prison system right now,” she said.
“To Overcome” — Vanessa Patchett
Vanessa Patchett started out looking at the huge issue of prejudice in Mexico City. Originally, her team was going to look at Skinheads and counter-cultural movements among youth. But it fell through. Their next idea was looking at the stigma and prejudice around disability, and her teammates in Mexico found the perfect subject: Luis.
Luis lost his arm in a factory accident, and the short video details his struggle with fighting the severe prejudice against people who are not physically capable. He battled depression and poverty before he finally found work again.
For Patchett, the language barrier was huge, and while she had prepared questions ahead of time, she relied entirely on her Mexican teammates. “During the interview I had to rely on my teammates entirely. I understood the emotional story, because the interview got very emotional, but I didn’t want to keep stopping the interview to understand,” she said.
Another challenge was probing at an issue that society refuses to acknowledge. “You ask, and they say there is no problem, no stigma. It’s not recognized and yet it’s so obvious,” said Patchett. She said she noticed certain things while walking through the city streets that make life difficult for people with disabilities. “You can’t get on the Metro unless you walk up twenty stairs. It’s in the way the streets are laid out,” she said.
“With Luis in particular, when I met him we saw firsthand that he’s so capable. He’s so skilled as a worker, but to hear how much discrimination he faced just because he has a disability–that was a very rude awakening,” said Patchett.