Filmmaker provides glimpse into “The Modern Jungle”

edited.anthrotalk_liztilleyBy Jon Vitale

Elm Staff Writer

Last week, Washington College hosted anthropologist filmmaker Charles Fairbanks. Fairbanks co-directed the 2016 documentary film “The Modern Jungle,” which dives into the roots of modern anthropology.

Fairbanks is the founding professor of Media Arts at Antioch College in Ohio, known for his work in short films. “The Modern Jungle” is his first feature.

In addition to a talk on Feb. 13, Fairbanks held a screening of the film on campus Tuesday. Students in different grades and majors attended to see “The Modern Jungle’s” look into the inner workings of society for Mexicans living in poverty.

The film had a 72-minute runtime, but the students present were so interested that the Q&A after the screening continued for nearly an hour.

“The Modern Jungle” focuses on the struggles of land workers living in the poorest, most isolated regions of Mexico. To document this, it follows the lives of Juan Juarez Rodriguez and Carmen Echevarria Lopez. Rodriguez is a land worker in his 60s, suffering from an ever-worsening hernia. Despite his constant hard work, Rodriguez finds iy very difficult to make enough money to travel to the city where the hospital is.

Even when he can reach the city, Rodriguez has little luck in affording medical care, and ends up turning to experimental, unproven drugs to try to heal as his condition worsens. His story as presented in the film shows the grueling and often unfair struggles of absolute poverty, and how even the hardest working, most desperate people can be trapped within the constraints of their society.

Lopez lives off her own land, in almost complete isolation. A widow of nearly 50 years, she manages on her own despite her old age; chopping down trees, catching her own food, and performing all of her life necessities on her own. Her portions of the film give an insight into the day-to-day lives of people living in this region of Mexico, many of whom need to rely on themselves for everything.

“It’s interesting, seeing how society can be so constrained by these barriers,” freshman and anthropology major Julia Fuchs said. “You have to admire how much these people put in, and how they really try to make the best of their circumstances.”

“The Modern Jungle” also addresses the ramifications of government on the lives of the people. Rodriguez is frequently rejected from receiving government hospital care, or referred to another, rather than receive the treatment he needs. At another point, Lopez reminisces about how unchanging life is for people like her, in large part due to corruption in the local government by dominant families.

“I think that the film raises questions, but doesn’t give too many answers,” one Sophomore said.

Perhaps, this is exactly what Fairbanks meant to accomplish in “The Modern Jungle.” The film analyzes impoverished Mexican society to raise the questions to the audiences. As for the solutions, it is left up to the audience to decide.

“Autoethnography can start with oneself,” Fairbanks said.

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