A ghost town with a few mortals left wandering its soggy streets, the Mexican village called San Marcos makes a sometimes eerie subject for Betzabe Garcia’s debut feature doc, Kings of Nowhere. Watching the sometimes pointless-seeming work of those residents who didn’t move off when a nearby dam flooded their hometown, the filmmakers prioritize mood and sensation over prosaic details, producing a portrait of post-flood life that is (sorry) too dry for mass consumption. Still, it should find respect at niche fests.
Only in closing titles do we learn that the Picachos dam, built in 2009 in the Sinaloa mountains, brought the population of this town from 300 families down to three. We see a lively 1999 fiesta on home video during those credits, a stark contrast to what precedes it — 80 minutes in which four people onscreen together constitutes a real crowd.
A quiet elegy for a place that’s almost, but not quite, dead.
In this much-changed place, young men pilot small motorboats past church steeples poking from the water; most structures that remain on dry land are ruins. In long, wordless takes, we see a man chop away at the foliage overtaking the drier parts of town; see a bull whose pasture has become an island; watch a donkey nibble around in an open-air tortilleria.
Locals seem grateful for the chance to talk with the filmmakers: one boatman regales them with stories about old neighbors, like the crazy man who gave himself gangrene and died; a young family explains why they continue to tend to the grounds of a church whose congregants are long gone. The most gregarious interviewees are an old couple who happily dispute the details of their decades-ago wedding, then sober up to talk about the threat of violence San Marcos faces from outsiders.
That threat, alluded to several times, is never explained, just as the details of the flooding remain something of a mystery. They’re facts of life in this little hamlet, which one is tempted to call frozen-in-time but which, more likely, has few years left to exist.
Production company: Venado Films
Director: Betzabe Garcia
Producers: Hugo Espinosa, Betzabe Garcia
Director of photography: Diego Tenorio
Editor: Gabriel Herrera
Venue: Documentary Fortnight, the Museum of Modern Art