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Kartemquin Films 50: ‘Viva La Causa’

Editor’s Note

Kartemquin Films is a not-for-profit organization in Chicago, which has been producing innovative documentaries to inspire democracy and action for 50 years. To celebrate this milestone, the collaborative group is featuring a film they produced every week, from now until the end of 2016. Each film is available to watch for free until the next film in their catalog is posted every Friday.

From this point onward, I expect to highlight each film with posts aimed at calling attention to the important work Kartemquin has done and how the group has impacted the art of cinema over the past half century. Two films from the early years, “Home for Life,” and “Inquiring Nuns,” have already been featured. I will publish posts about those films in the coming weeks. —Kevin Gosztola

This short film is about ten minutes long, and it captures some of the early rise of the mural movement in Chicago’s Pilsen community in the mid-1970s.

For those not from Chicago, Pilsen is well-known for its Hispanic population. It did not have a prevalent Latino population until the University of Illinois-Chicago gentrified part of the city and pushed Latinos into this area of Chicago.

Ray Patlán, a key player in what is known as the mural renaissance in the United States, directs the mural painted on the side of a building in Pilsen. It is called “Viva la Causa.” It reflects the cause of the movement—the need for Hispanics to reconquer their education, their history, their culture—and reconnect to their past in countries like Mexico.

The Mexican Revolution becomes a vector for youth and others in the community to grapple with the struggle of their community. It allows them to pull from Mexican history and culture and apply it to current social dynamics, which they face.

Most of the mural project is funded through donations. It offers many students an opportunity to paint for the first time. It also gives them a chance to explore art in a way that schools in Chicago may not allow because they make art too tedious and difficult for students.

Like with the murals that currently populate the buildings in the Pilsen community, each person in the community has a different interpretation of the mural. Kartemquin filmmakers ask them for their views. Of course, it’s all subjective. No person is more right or more wrong than the other.

The art enhances the community and provokes reflection on the importance of culture in the neighborhood.

[Watch “Viva La Causa” for free at Kartemquin Films’ website. It is available until February 25.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."