By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/20/21 – Coming up on October 25 as part of the 34th POV series on PBS is a showing of a Mexican documentary film Things We Dare Not Do (Cosas que no hacemos, 2020). This is the second feature film of Mexican director and cinematographer Bruno Santamaría Razo. In the small Mexican coastal pueblo of El Roblito, sixteen-year-old Arturo (Ñoño) lives what seems to be an idyllic existence with his loving family. He spends his days playing with the free-spirited younger children of the town and staging elaborate community dance productions. But he holds a secret. Defying gender norms, Ñoño bravely works up the courage to tell his family he wants to live his life as a woman, a fraught decision in a country shrouded in machismo and transphobia. Produced by Abril López Carrillo, the documentary will premiere Monday, October 25, 2021, on PBS at 10 p.m. ET (check local listings) and at pov.org. It will also be available to stream for free at pov.org through November 24, 2021.
This beautifully filmed documentary was shot in the coastal pueblo of El Roblito (population, 220), situated in the coastal state of Nayarit close to the border with the state of Sinaloa, and halfway between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, Mexico. Using a hand-held camera in true cinema verité style, the director captures the life of the Cisneros family in El Roblito and the daily activities that make up ordinary life in rural Mexico today. Early on we see Arturo (Ñoño) wandering down to the seaside lagoons to ponder what it would be like to a woman, as he applies some make-up and dons a dress with padding for breasts. Ñoño gets along famously with the children of the village, but all that grinds to a halt after an incident with two armed gunmen driving through the village at the time of a community celebration and gun down two young village men. Given the proximity to Sinaloa, one might assume that this is the work of the Sinaloa drug cartel, but apparently (as the director confided) it was the result of some very old familial dispute. Shortly thereafter Ñoño tries to muster the courage to tell his parents that he is gay and would like to dress as a woman – if his parents permit him to do so. It is a most moving moment when his mother and father ponder how to respond. This is rural Mexico and life here is very simple and unsophisticated, but machismo and transphobia are quite strong.
One cannot but admire the charming, soft-spoken Ñoño, who is willing to share his innermost concerns with the film’s director in this documentary. Ñoño lives in a rural village where his main source of information about gay people and transsexuals is via the internet on his mobile phone. That is how he learns about Gay Beauty Pageants in larger cities in Mexico and this is what helps shape his decision about his own queer identity. Director Bruno Santamaría first met Ñoño at age 14 when he was visiting the town and showing movies outside in the central plaza area next to the church. He became close to the Cisneros family but did not talk to Ñoño, who was generally very silent. Ñoño’s mother approached Santamaría about his own sexuality and why have never disclosed to his own parents about his being gay. Ñoño’s mother said that to Santamaría: “There is nothing worse than a secret. You should tell them.” Apparently, Ñoño was listening and later Nono came to Santamaria and said “I have a secret. I am gay. I came out when I was 12. But I am not gay. I feel like a woman. I am a woman. I want to come out to my parents.” At that point, film director Santamaría and Ñoño became close, sharing a secret together. Santamaria was already filming in El Roblito and Ñoño became the center of the film.
The question that comes to mind is how did Bruno Santamaría manage to become so close to the family that he could capture such intimate footage for his documentary. He explained that he spent 8 months in El Roblito over a period of three years. Somehow Ñoño’s mother seemed to understand the whole situation, about keeping secrets on the part of both Ñoño and director Santamaría. Ñoño became comfortable with the camera and as the people became increasingly familiar with his presence, they were fine being up close with the camera being on. At the same time, the film is full of so many beautiful and colorful artistic touches – like the opening scene of Santa Claus in a flying parachute in the area over the pueblo for Christmas. The film is realistic, and even the dream sequence of Ñoño putting on a dress and make-up near the lagoon captures her feeling joyous at embodying that dream. The musical choices are quite excellent. Tomás Barreíro, with whom Santamaría has collaborated previously, composed the score with full orchestral accompaniment.
Director Santamaría has been in contact with Dayanara (the name Ñoño has assumed) since the original shooting of the film in El Roblito. After leaving for the city and working briefly in a clothing shop, Dayanara is now living in Tijuana and working for a large company. Dayanara is in the process of transitioning and living with another trans-woman. At work, she dresses as a woman and is considered to be a woman, but in traveling to and from her work, she cannot dress as a woman because it is too dangerous. Although Santamaría captured Dayanara’s story of coming out, he feels that her life may actually be more difficult with transitioning and its impact on her life and work. The film’s events are not completely chronological, but the editing gave the story a more credible narrative shape.
“Bruno Santamaría’s Things We Dare Not Do juxtaposes the beauty of rural Mexico against the strength, bravery, and spirit of a young queer person in a story that is relatable, moving, and important. We are so proud to offer this film as part of our 34th season,” said Erika Dilday, Executive Director of American Documentary and Executive Producer of POV. Accompanying the online viewing of Things We Dare Not Do on PBS will be a short film Share, directed by Barna Szász and Ellie Wen. That film explores an 18-year old influencer’s attempts to reconcile his identity online with his identity in real life. Bruno Santamaría is a cinematographer and documentary director, and a graduate of the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC) in Mexico City. His directorial debut Margarita (2016) marked the start of his practice of addressing reality through film. He recently premiered his latest documentary, Things We Dare Not Do (2020), earning prestigious awards at BAFICI, FICUNAM, and CABOS and the Best Documentary Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Lima Film Festival, among others; it was included in the lineup of the recent Hola Mexico Film Festival in Los Angeles.