De Panzazo! is a high profile social activist documentary that sounds the alarm on the failing public education system in Mexico and therein demands an urgent call to action from its viewers. Directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo (En El Hoyo, Los Que Se Quedan), co-directed by prominent journalist Carlos Loret De Mola, and produced by Daniela Alatorre (El General) the film is opening in theatres in Mexico on February 24. With a distribution release strategy in collaboration with social education initiative group, Mexicanos Primero and the biggest theatre chain in Mexico,Cinépolis, the film is hotly anticipated and bound to move and affect change from the most fundamental level – improving national education.
De Panzanzo! follows a determined but genteel Loret De Mola on a mission to find and clarify missing, startling inaccessible, public school statistics like the number of certified teachers in the country. Along with his very direct interviews with several top officials including the controversial head of the nation’s teacher’s union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who in one of the more tickling moments in the film promises in a scout’s honor type handshake to evaluate the performance of teachers, the film reveals gaping cracks in the system, chief among them, the staggering percentage of unqualified teachers, the challenge of operating decentralized schools in outward rural communities, and a flagrant mismanagement of school funding and resources.
A multi-pronged overview and a pressing sense of advocacy dominates the film as it does not shy away from taking to task school and government administrators, as well as parents and students. As imploring as the film’s hard stance is however, it would not be as successful in eliciting the sentiment it does, required to mobilize hearts into action, if it weren’t for Rulfo’s singular cinematic brand of being able to visually imbue and capture the soul of Mexico through the bright-eyed spirit of young school children who dream against heavy odds of becoming doctors and engineers.
I don’t think there is an applicable translation, but the term De Panzazo might otherwise be understood by another phrase in English; “Barely hanging on by a thin thread” which in the film, refers to the critical precipice the country dangles from, and which is vividly rendered by the numerous and entertaining graphs showing Mexico standing near the bottom, if not the very bottom of every international education standing list.
Whether the film will affect change is up to the public. The film and the interactive website offers numerous and viable opportunities to engage. But the big test is how well it plays in theaters. Considering the unprecedented box office success this past year of Presunto Culpable, a Mexican documentary that exposed the grossly unjust judicial system via the case of a wrongfully incarcerated young man, it hopefully indicates there is not only a need but a desire of Mexican society to embrace social issue documentaries, and a population who is ready to engage in what the organization Mexicanos Primeros have positively coined; Urgent Mission, Historic Opportunity.
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