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BLOSSOMS OF FIRE (directors: Maureen Gosling/Ellen Osborne; screenwriters: Maureen Gosling/Toni Hanna; cinematographer: Xavier Perez Grobet; editor: Maureen Gosling; cast: Maureen Goslin (Narrator); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Toni Hanna; New Yorker Films; 2000-USA-in Spanish and Zapotec)
“Gosling’s documentary proves to be a worthwhile effort.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The straightforward documentary directed by Maureen Gosling (a longtime film editor and collaborator with documentarian Les Blank) and Ellen Osborne chronicles the Zapotec women of Juchitán, who live in this small city on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico. They speak Zapotec or Spanish, and are desperately trying to preserve their dying Indian language and their traditional culture. Gosling also acts as narrator, editor, as well as cowriter with Toni Hanna.

“Blossoms” dispels any false impressions of the colorful old-fashioned place and explains how it functions as a matriarchal society, a rarity in today’s world, especially clearing up the false concept presented by a story that ran in the French magazine Elle just before the film was shot attesting that the women “prohibit the men from buying and selling” in the markets and take up with young lovers while forcing their husbands to “babysit.”

The Indian women, who enjoy being garbed in their colorful traditional dresses, are the ones in charge of things in this city. They are considered the better administrators and as is their long-standing custom they handle the money in the family. The men work mostly as farmers and fishermen, while the women run the businesses and many sell their fruit and wares all day in the marketplace, at night do the housework and care for the children. What the magazine reported is deemed merely as a fantasy story not offering a shred of truth.

Upon closer inspection of these friendly and peaceful people, we see how the city enjoys a large degree of political freedom (thanks to the women’s prominent role in the COCEI, the political party made up of the poor and indigenous that challenged in the 1980s the long-standing single-party rule of the PRI and won in the local elections), economic strength (of all the Third World places, this area is one of the few that has a well-nourished population), and social equality (there’s even an open acceptance of lesbians and gays).

We learn that the natives live a simple life: work hard, eat well, watch TV and enjoy their many fiestas. It traces the Juchitán’s history back to a critical point in the 14th century, a time when they had to fend off invaders (never becoming enslaved to the Aztecs) and women became legendary for their role as fierce fighters. It updates modern times as a period of renewed interest in saving their precious culture and language and warns that there are dangers through globalization that their way of life is changing and will never be the same. It might be through video games catching the attention of their young people or that there’s possible oil reserves in the Isthmus region that they have been able to stave off drilling so far because of their strong unified leftist political party taking on the unfriendly exploratory advances by the big oil companies that would drastically effect their environment and way of life. In the end, we are left rooting for these warm-hearted people to survive and remain unique and offer a voice of hope for others like them who only ask for their own freedom. In getting that point over in such a clear-cut and concise way, Gosling’s documentary proves to be a worthwhile effort.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”