“Humanity—an experiment with dust!” — poet Pita Amor as heard in Polvo.
Angela Reginato’s autobiographical Polvo (Dust, 2012) blends footage from educational films, home movies, and feature films with her own original Super 8mm shots. Polvo is the third and longest film (28 minutes) in a trilogy that includes Contemplando la ciudad (Contemplating the City, 2005) and Vivir Soñando (To Live Dreaming, 2010). The earlier shorts focus on a young girl (Sandra Dueñas) trying to make sense of what she experiences and imagines while living in Mexico City from 1978 to 1981, where her father works at the American Embassy.
Polvo is an excavation, both personal and cinematic. Stories gleaned from Reginato’s family and friends when she returned to Mexico City in the 1990s and 2000s are woven into the narrative and inter-cut with footage shot by superochero Sergio Garcia and films Reginato found at Mexican flea markets. These archival images hint at Mexico City’s culture and politics during the later years of the Dirty War. Politics are not the film’s focus, but they permeate the spaces Polvo inhabits and inflect Reginato’s dual Spanish-English narration.
After an extended sequence preceding the opening titles—an excerpt from an educational film linking the ancient Tenochtitlan culture to modern Mexico City via bird’s eye views of the Torre Latinoamericana — Garcia’s 1980s footage brings us into the Zócalo (Mexico City’s central square since the Aztec times). We learn that it is sinking every year. Then, a vibrant Huichol yarn drawing spirals on screen. We’re invited into the “cosmic spiral” the narration describes: the city’s submerging and unearthed buildings are intrinsically linked to Reginato’s personal story.
The yarn swirls into the final scene as children carry balloons to an Aztec ruin. Polvo’s motifs of childlike curiosity become refrains, signalling this as the work of a mature artist acknowledging the privileged life she experienced in Mexico City.
Buildings, plazas, temples, and statues permeate Polvo. Their monumental scale is alienating, but just as we may begin to feel lost, Dueñas returns to the screen, grounding Polvo in the body of a girl coming of age in Mexico City. We can anchor ourselves in her and experience a spiral of memories, revealed or imagined.
Regina Longo is a film and media archivist, historian, and archival researcher/producer. She manages the MCM archives and teaches courses on audiovisual archiving in the department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She was the Founding Director of the Albanian Cinema Project.