Daniela P. Ontiveros says being interviewed by the Tucson Weekly about Pan Left is a full-circle moment. After all, it was in the Weekly where Ontiveros read a cover story about the Mexican mining town of Cananea—her birth town, where her grandfather and uncles still lived. The story (see "Cheap Labor ... Cheap Lives," April 8, 1999) inspired her to make a documentary, and it was the nonprofit video collective Pan Left that gave her the skills and resources to make it happen. The organization celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. For more information, visit www.panleft.org/index.php.
How did you get involved with Pan Left?
Several years back, the Tucson Weekly did a feature story on Cananea and the labor issues happening with the copper mine. At the time, I was going to Pima (Community) College and moving in the direction of video production. The article hit close to home. I was born in Cananea and still have family living there. ... The article inspired me to do a feature-length documentary about my roots and the issues confronting my family and the town.
What was your connection to Cananea?
My grandfather and my uncles still live in Cananea and have all worked at the mine. I was born in the union clinic there. The way I told my story in the documentary was based on my history and my connection to the town. I went back to reconnect with my roots. I interviewed my family and got them to share some personal history, as well as what was going on in the town, and how the mine was affecting not just my family, but the environment. It was a journey that helped me discover a lot about the roots of my family as well as the history of Cananea.
What was the title of your documentary?
The Heart and the Monster: A Journey to Cananea. (The mine) sustains the town, but at the same time, it's killing the town's spirit. My big question at the time was, "If the strike continues, and the corporation decides to shut down the mine, will Cananea turn into a ghost town? Where do people go?" And what does that mean? What happens to your own personal history? Today, the mine is still in operation, but there are still a lot of issues.
How did you get to Pan Left?
I came across a flier; I didn't know how to produce a video, so I attended a Pan Left meeting. I had the desire and the necessary passion to produce my documentary, but now I needed the resources and the tools. I learned how to write a video proposal, and then I presented the proposal to the collective for approval. ... They offered me the necessary support, tools and resources; they also helped me get my first grant through the Tucson Pima Arts Council, which paid for travel expenses and my videographer. I also received some funding from private donors.
If you didn't pick up that flier, would you have still made your documentary?
In all honesty, I don't think I would have been able to do it without Pan Left's help.
What's kept you involved the past 10 years?
The people who make the collective keep me coming back. We do what we can do with limited financial resources, but the dedication of the collective members and their commitment to keep the organization afloat is one of the main reasons the collective still exists. We only have one paid staff (member), which makes Pan Left a volunteer-driven collective. Being around this energy is inspirational.
What does Pan Left offer?
Pan Left offers individuals in the community the support and the tools to produce their own videos. We also have a fee-for-service program where organizations who need video-productions services can hire us. ... Some organizations and independent producers also use Pan Left as an umbrella, for our 501(c)3 status.
Has the organization changed over the years?
It's definitely growing and changing, but the core belief of the mission still remains: If you want to produce or become an independent producer, and want to get your message out to the community, we are here to support you. But please be aware that we are Pan Left, hence the name, and not all projects get the green light. ... Our financial situation is not always as steady as we want it to be, but it remains an awesome community resource.