Cherán: The Burning Hope

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Elpida Nikou

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

The director Alexander Nanau and his documentary Toto and his sisters


What motivated you to make this film?

We have known for a long time about the struggle that Cheran, a small indigenous community in Mexico, has been carrying out for almost a decade. Normal people had to expel from their territory narcos and corrupt police in order to save themselves and their families from the nonsense violence that the whole country suffers. And the special thing with this community is that they did it, through the action of normal people they managed to take the control of their own lives and create an environment of peace for them by self governing. For us it is an example to follow and we wanted the world to know about this experience.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Canon C300 Mark II, sony A7sII


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

Mainly we decided to follow the characters and let them speak and tell their story. That’s mainly what we try to do with our films, give voice to the protagonists of their stories. For that we made interviews but also used the interactions between the different characters that appear in the story. Using their voice, some footage that recreates the situations that they have already lived and footage from their current activities and lives.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

This story has been very well planned since before the shooting. It helps that we are very close to the fight of the community that we filmed. Knowing well what happens to them and who are involved made it easier to have the desirable result, which is pretty close to what we have thought we wanted to be.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

The participation of the community and their view on the final edit is the most rewarding experience. They told us not only that they liked it but also that it’s one of the most complete films on their fight and that it is very useful in order to spread the voice on what is happening to them as well as in all Mexico.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

To be close to the people and communities they film. Know to listen and have open eyes and ears to what may occur. Many times, we as filmmakers, arrive to the stories we want to tell with a certain vision. But the amazing thing of the documentaries is that life is much more stronger and complicated than what we think. So, we have to be open minded in order to be able to serve the communities we retreat.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

That’s a tough question. Every single stage has amazing moments. But maybe the part of the production is the most challenging one and the part of post production is the most magical as it permits you make a film become true.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

Apart from the gear, not much more. It is already too much and we try to travel light in order to be able to move easily.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

While making the film, while shooting we were amazed by the strength and creativity of those people. Our main character, Yunuen, a young woman who never stops to do activities, participate in the community radio, inform about what is going on, give speeches on their experience has been a whole revelation for us and a motive to keep on telling these kinds of stories to the world.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Our main effort in almost all the stories we make is to convince the media that it’s a compelling story and worth being told. The pitching time is the most challenging one and the less attractive.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

That things can be done in a different way and that when people get organised they become able to change their own lives building different communities based on justice and solidarity.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

Storytelling, commitment to the communities that we film, how to reach major audience in order to achieve impact


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

We, the directors of the film, work as part of an audiovisual cooperative. Which means that we work in a horizontal way, trying to help each other instead of competing.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):

Our cooperatives website:



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