Forgotten Village (film #1 on Feature Films). [Category: Public Service]

This sensitively-done 30s documentary tells the story of Juan Diego, a young man who lives in a tiny Mexican village, where people live a traditional rural lifestyle that has changed little over thousands of years. The only link with the outside world is Juan’s schoolteacher, who gives the village children a bit of knowledge of the modern world. When the children of Juan’s village start sickening and dying in droves, Juan goes to his teacher for help. The teacher suspects that the village well is spreading an infectious disease, and he encourages Juan to go to a nearby city and get a public health team to come and help. Unfortunately, the villagers rely on a local medicine woman for healthcare, and they are extremely hostile to new ideas. When Juan returns with the medical team, most of the families hide their sick children from them, and when they try to disinfect the well, the villagers accuse them of poisoning it. In desperation to cure his seriously ill younger sister (he already lost a brother to the illness), Juan sneaks her to the medical team in the middle of the night to get her an injection of a curative serum, but his father catches him afterwards and orders him to leave the village and never return. The medical team, however, make arrangements for Juan to attend a special school for young people who want to bring modern medicine to their villages. They reassure Juan that change happens slowly, and that it will be young people like him who will finally bring such changes about. This is an intelligent and sensitive film that is not too hard on the villagers who reject the medical team’s interventions. This makes it more enlightened than you’d expect for the time it was made. Of course, by today’s standards, it has some problems––it gives no context for the villagers’ suspiciousness of outsiders coming in and trying to change their ways, which may encourage audience members to think of them as just ignorant and stubborn. And it shows no downside to modernity, whereas from today’s perspective we know that modern ways, with their medical miracles and conveniences, have a tendency to destroy traditional ways of life, leaving little for poor rural people to take its place. Still, this film is a wonderful documentation of those ways of life, as well as providing a historically interesting snapshot of public health practices in Mexico during the 30s.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****+. Overall Rating: *****.

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