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Cherán: A Burning Hope

Welcome to Cherán, a small indigenous community in the state of Michoacán that kicked out the local drug cartels and refused to settle for government corruption.

In April 2011, the people of Cherán set out on a path towards self-rule. At the time, Yunuen Torres was just a little girl, but she remembers how scary life was before her community took their town back. Today, local activist and community radio host has made it her mission to record oral histories that capture Cherán’s tumultuous past and inspire the next generation to uphold all that her community fought for—safety, freedom and the right to govern themselves.

Cherán’s experiment in self-government appears to be working. Its people have become a symbol of resistance. The town has proven that things can be done differently, and better—and the example is spreading. Other indigenous communities in Mexico are now taking up the mantle of self-government.

  • Elpida Nikou
  • Rodrigo Hernandez
  • Muzungu Producciones
  • Elpida Nikou
  • Rodrigo Hernandez
  • Alfonso Solis
    Creative Producer
  • Miguel Tovar
    Drone Operator
  • Katrine Dermody
    Executive Producer
  • Japhet Weeks
    Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    13 minutes 36 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 5, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 USD
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Elpida Nikou, Rodrigo Hernandez

Elpida Nikou and Rodrigo Hernandez have been documenting the consequences of the war on drugs in Mexico for the past decade. The stories and people they have met along the way have marked them forever. They try to tell their stories from the perspective of those most affected by the issues, those who have suffered and those who have been relegated into institutional oblivion. That is why, as directors, they were especially motivated to tell the story of Cherán, a place where the residents have taken their pain and loss and transformed it into something powerful and positive.

Elpida Nikou (Greece, b. 1981) is a camerawoman and filmmaker. She co-directed Mexico’s Fight for the Future (Al Jazeera 2015) which was nominated for the One World Media Awards. Her first feature film, Disparos, was shown in film festivals in 10 countries.

Rodrigo Hernandez (Mexico, b. 1982) is an independent documentary filmmaker whose work has appeared on Al Jazeera, AJ+ and TeleSUR. He has reported from more than 20 countries on four continents. In 2010 he founded “Muzungu”, an independent production company focused on social issues. Along with Elpida Nikou, he co-directed the feature film, Disparos, about violence in one of the most marginalized neighborhoods in Mexico City. The film was supported by the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE).

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Director Statement

For the past decade, news stories from Mexico have been marked by death, forced disappearances and violence—often at the hands of drug cartels or as a result of government impunity and corruption. But Mexico is more than that. It’s a country full of hope and resilience. It’s people long for real change and are willing to fight for it.

No other place in Mexico represents this better than Cherán, a small community in the state of Michoacán, which has become a symbol of resistance. The town has proven that things can be done differently—and better. Having lost trust in state institutions, the community responded by asserting their autonomy. They overcame drug cartels and corruption. And the example is spreading—other indigenous communities in Mexico are now taking up the mantle of self-government.

To feel and understand what happened in Cherán, it’s essential to talk about the past and understand how the popular uprising occurred. The story is not new to Mexicans, but we wanted to tell it in a new way, using a different style, both in photography and in editing. And most importantly, we wanted the people of Cherán—specifically the women of Cherán—to tell their own story. We depict the present in a verité style, while experimenting with a more rhythmic and impressionistic style to capture Cherán’s tumultuous past. The idea was both to document and elevate the story of Cherán and its residents as an ode to their struggle and as a springboard for their continued success.