Supposedly, the Isthmus Zapotecs living in Juchitn, a city in Oaxaca, Mexico, boast a fascinating matriarchal society. But while that assertion is made many times by the narrator and backed with quotes from luminaries like Sergei Eisenstein and Frida Kahlo, this rambling documentary never makes a convincing case. Shot over a period of ten years (and languishing on the festival circuit since 2000), Maureen Gosling and Ellen Osborne’s labor of love is a hodgepodge of disorganized interviews with locals, scenic festival footage and a cursory history of the ancient culture.
Legend had it that the Zapotec women ruled the city, working in the market and taking teenage lovers while their husbands took care of the homes. A writer for Elle France published a 1994 article saying as much, leading a group of Zapotecs to sue for slander. Gosling and Osborne don’t bother to find out what happened with that litigation, opting instead to focus on uncovering the dull “truth” about the Zapotecs: The women wear colorful outfits and sell fruit; the men labor in the fields; the children play in the streets. There is a lively gay community and the society is politically progressive, at least according to the narrator. Toward the film’s end, the citizens complain about impending globalization and the negative impact it will have on their unique culture. Unfortunately, viewers won’t know what’s worth preserving here. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—Raven Snook