Filmmaker Jesús Muñoz delves into the origins of the Virgin of Guadalupe and how she has become Mexico's most respected and representative icon.

LUCERO CALDERÓN | 06-12-2023

It was after reading a text on the existence of La Virgen de Guadalupe de Extremadura, in Spain, published thirty years ago by the now deceased politician Carlos Castillo Peraza, that the filmmaker Jesús Muñoz became intrigued about the relationship between that Virgin and Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe.

This interest led the Chihuahua native to do more research over the years, encounter historians and experts in the field, and give shape to Tonantzin Guadalupe. Creation of a Nation, a documentary that delves into the historical origins of the Virgin of Tepeyac, who is celebrated every December 12th in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

The aim of making the documentary was to learn the history of the country’s most important icon and symbol. I believe that the first thing that existed of Mexico’s identity is the Virgin of Guadalupe. Upon this clash of two cultures (Mesoamerica and Europe), which were completely different, at some point a glimpse what this country and Mexicanity is begun, a very characteristic culture that is loved all over the world. I believe that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the birth of Mexico, the origin of Mexico as a concept and culture," Jesús Muñoz said from London.

The border born filmmaker, who studied film at the London Film School, began working on Tonantzin Guadalupe: the making of a Nation in 2018, having an idea in mind of the path the documentary would take, however, after the pandemic, his idea mutated to the extent of including interviews with experts and using a complementary narrative element: the staging of a play based on the Nican Mopohua, a book in Nahuatl from 1649 that speaks of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, the first of them in 1531.

One of the items that struck me most in the research process is that, among all scholars and historians, the main consensus is that the Nican Mopohua document, which is written in Nahuatl, is most likely a sacramental act made into a mystery play. In the 16th century, one of the evangelisation tools used by the Franciscans was to stage mystery plays and staged a lot of theatre in Nahuatl. It is thought that the story, because of the way it is written and structured, is a play, but that does not mean that the apparitions are not true, simply that the story is a staging," explained Muñoz, who addresses in the documentary different voices, viewpoints and perspectives on the Virgin of Guadalupe.

To adapt parts of the Nican Mopohua to the theatrical performance that forms part of the documentary, due to be released tomorrow at Cinemex, the director relied on the knowledge of a leading specialist in ancient Nahuatl.

Imagine, having Rafael Tena by my side, helping me to adapt the screenplay, was a wonderful experience", said the producer of the documentary Un filósofo en la arena.

Asked whether Tonantzin Guadalupe would challenge the idea of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the 54-year-old UK-based filmmaker was adamant.

In no way am I saying that the Virgin of Guadalupe did not appear, and that people should stop believing in her. Faith is something personal, something that is experienced individually. Once could say that it is not of this world, it is something that by definition, is not possible for us documentary filmmakers to capture, it is something that lives inside you and is transmitted it from within, God does not give interviews. It is something personal and at the end of the day, people who have faith and profess it in a genuine way, will continue to live with it," Muñoz explained.

Tonantzin Guadalupe also included the participation of anthropologist Liliana Vargas, Náhuatl dancer and speaker Jesús Yohualli López, historian Rodrigo Martínez Baracs, historian Gisela von Wobeser and Father Juan Carlos Casas García.

From the film's official website, Muñoz and the production team made available to anyone the historical sources used to support the data that supported the script and its audiovisual development.

Premiere: Tomorrow in Cinemex cinemas. Directed by: Jesús Muñoz.
Country: Mexico.
Genre: Documentary.
Running time: 90 minutes.
Music by Camilo Froideval and Dan Zlotnik.