Since the mid-1990’s, Mexican film directors have been enjoying the spotlight here in the states. And rightfully so; to many, they are pioneers. However, a relatively unknown documentary from 1972 may have been the true trailblazer.
Centinelas del Silencio (1972) brings to screen the innate beauty of both geology and ancient architecture from a core group of Latin filmmakers and collaborators. The film is an enjoyably scientific experience, revealing (in epic gesture) the unearthly beauty and rich folklore within Mexico’s cultural diaspora. Without break or breathe, the screen is filled with dazzling aerial shots of Mexico’s most famous Ancient temples. As an obviously shocking narrator choice, Orson Welles brings to the film his endearing and meaningful prose, supporting the viewer with necessary context during its endless visual splendor.
With a runtime of only 18 minutes, Centinelas del Silencio provides through its cinematography, music and narration the subtle poetics and pure form of great art – an intangible, Herzog-esque sentiment which is seldom seen in motion pictures even today. The film has an oddly recognizable and sanguine tone, although it could be the VHS fuzz. Regardless, Planet Earth and Discovery Channel are clearly the sophomoric effort for us modern folk.
Centinelas del Silencio, produced by Mexican-American Manuel Arango and directed by Hungarian Robert Amran won the 1972 Oscar for Best Short Subject, as well as one for Best Documentary Short Subject. Both the Spanish and English versions included a symphonic score by Mariano Moreno, and Ricardo Montalban provided the Spanish language narration.
Arango was clearly the first of his kind as an effective crossover filmmaker. A tributary to Ancient Mexico, this film serves as a critical contribution to both documentary film and Mexican Cinema.
The film can be seen here. Let us know your favorite Oscar short in the comments below!