A 12th century Mixtec princess will be the protagonist of a new film to be made by an indigenous director originally from Oaxaca.
Itandehui Jansen, who also works as a film lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, is currently in the early stages of making a movie that will be called Ciudad de pedernales (Flint City).
“It will be completely in Mixtec, although in this initial stage I’m developing it in Spanish,” she told the newspaper Milenio. “It’s about a Mixtec princess in the 12th century who’s trying to solve a murder,” Jansen said.
She said the development of the script has been supported by imagineNATIVE, a Canadian organization that describes itself as the world’s largest presenter of indigenous screen content.
“It’s an ambitious and complicated project, and very different at the same time,” Jansen said. “The protagonist is a woman and her role is almost one of a detective.”
The filmmaker, a graduate of the Netherlands Film Academy, said the film will be more of a “traditional drama” than a visually striking movie that depicts “the great battles of the time.”
“… [It will be] more intimate,” she said. As there is scant information about some aspects of 12th century Mixtec life, such as clothing and housing, Jansen is making use of artistic license to develop the story and the main character, who is loosely based on a Mixtec warrior woman.
She said she is seeking to balance fictitious elements of the story with “the historical truth.”
“I’m giving myself some freedom to create a strong woman who’s starting to understand her relationship to power and her role as a ruler. There are Mixtec codices from that time that explain that they ruled in pairs; it’s not said there were no women rulers,” Jansen said.
One codex that informs her story is the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, also known as the Tondinye Codex, a document of Mixtec pictography held at the British Museum.
“I feel that [Mexican] historical films are about the [Spanish] colony, the conquest or the arrival of Columbus, but we have a history prior to that. These pre-colonial codices tell us older stories,” Jansen said.
“My father is a historian, and we’ve wanted to work together for a long time. … This project is the perfect idea to do it. He’s providing me with the academic information and I’m developing a story,” she said.
Jansen said she is committed to having Mixtec dialogue in the film and noted that she will have the support of her husband, who speaks the language.
“I don’t speak it. My parents migrated to Holland when I was little, they maintained Spanish but when my mom wanted to teach me Mixtec I wasn’t interested,” she said.
“When I wanted to learn it was already very complicated [to do so]. Because of that frustration of having lost the language, I’ve done projects in Mixtec,” said the director, whose first feature, Tiempo de Lluvia/In Times of Rain, has dialogue in Spanish and Mixtec.
With reports from Milenio