"I couldn't remember in my lifetime a bigger (mining) tragedy," says filmmaker Rudy Joffroy, who directed the documentary Los Caídos (The Fallen), which tells the story of the explosion and its aftermath, including the overthrow of a union leader accused of using millions of dollars as a bribe to divert the public from the Mexican government's transgressions, and a 152-day strike in Michoacan, Mexico, where two miners died and 120 others were injured.
Joffroy started looking into the Pasta de Conchos disaster in order to create a feature film about the incident. "As we started learning about the tragedy, we got the stories first-hand. ... We found out a lot of information about conspiracy and fraud, and we (realized) this was more a documentary than a (feature) film," says Joffroy.
Joffroy, a native of Sonora, Mexico, has worked in the film industry for 12 years directing commercials, music videos and working on feature films such as Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies.
Creating his first documentary was a challenge, and Joffroy spent two years on the project. "All of my feature experience went into this. ... Things were happening as we were shooting, so the editing process was very hard."
Joffroy's film will be making its U.S. debut at the Tucson Cine Mexico film festival on Sunday, March 29.
This is the latest incarnation of Cine Mexico, now with new organizers, including the Mexican Consulate and the Tucson Film Office.
"It took us a while to find the right working relationship and funding," says Vicky Westover, program director of the UA Hanson Film Institute, which is also one of the festival's presenters. "Collaborations are not easy; it takes a while to find people with the same vision."
That vision was to bring the best Mexican films--some of which have been making the rounds at well-known film festivals--to Tucson. "We're looking for films that have been recognized internationally, and (we're) trying to provide the opportunity to see them in Tucson," says Westover.
After all, "The purpose of a film festival is to see films you wouldn't see regularly. ... (We're) getting a lot of firsts, and I think that's what festivals should be doing," she says.
One of those firsts includes a preview--before its national release--of Rudo y Cursi, which reunites Y Tu Mamá También stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.
Four other modern feature films will be screened, as will vintage 1950s and 1960s sci-fi films.
"They're hilarious; they have a kitsch appeal, and we're always looking for stuff like that," says Westover, who adds the sci-fi films, beyond being fun, include social critiques that reflect the culture of Mexico in the '50s and '60s.
Because of its large Hispanic demographic and history, Tucson is a perfect location to debut some of these films, Westover says.
"As best I could tell, there seems to be no film festival in the United States that focuses year after year on Mexican films. Some of the films taking prizes are really stunning in their own way," says Westover.
She says she expects a variety of people to check out Cine Mexico. "The social-justice community will think the documentaries are important, and I think the Hispanic community will come because they want their stories told; they'll relate to the stories."
That is exactly what happened to Joffroy, who says Los Caídos brought him closer to his Mexican heritage and raised his awareness about the labor force in Mexico and the working conditions they face on a daily basis.
"It was one of the most important experiences in my life," he says. "It brought me back to my roots. ... It was great to hear these voices. It was very gratifying."
His dream for Los Caídos is for the documentary to make the rounds at international festivals, in hopes that more people will learn about the horrible events that happened three years ago.
"It's important. The more who watch it, the better," he says.
Tucson Cine Mexico 2009 will take place Thursday through Sunday, March 26 through 29, and Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4, at the Harkins Tucson Spectrum 18, 5455 S. Calle Santa Cruz, and the Crossroads 6 Grand Cinemas, 4811 E. Grant Road. General admission tickets are available at the box office one hour before show time and are $5 each, except for Rudo y Cursi tickets, which cost $10. Visit the Cine Mexico Web site for more information.