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State of Silence Film Review: Speaking Up

A wooden structure with magazines on them is on fire at night in a still from the film State of Silence

State of Silence is a chilling reminder that, just because a journalist works behind a screen, it doesn’t make it any less dangerous of a career.

Director: Santiago Maza
Genre: Documentary, Crime
Run Time: 83′
Tribeca Premiere: June 10-12, 2024
Release Date: TBA

Director Santiago Maza’s State of Silence is an eye-opening documentary for those who don’t know about the hardships Mexican journalists undergo. In a land where citizens don’t know where law begins and where crime ends, the role of a journalist becomes vital to report on corruption, cartels, and the many cases of deaths those who try to expose them suffer. The film explains the fear these professionals live in daily yet push back against it to not tolerate being silent.

In an age where journalists are repeatedly antagonized, Maza’s movie does not hold any punches when it comes to demonstrating the vulnerable position these individuals find themselves in. State of Silence focuses on Mexico’s dilemma, but it is an issue seen all over. Just now, for the past eight months, we’ve witnessed reporters lose their lives trying to shine a light on the Palestinian victims of the Israel-Hamas conflict. It’s a thankless job, made even more difficult by government officials who label journalists as spreaders of misinformation when reporting the truth.

Maza humanizes his subjects by often giving us a look into their personal lives. In one instance, he shows a reporter walking to his job while holding his son in his arms. By this point, we have heard multiple tellings of news writers being targets of crime bosses and politicians alike. Many are killed for voicing their concerns. So, a simple activity like walking around the neighborhood is suddenly filled with dread, fearing the camera might capture a tragedy. Through these methods – putting us in these people’s shoes – the film builds tension.

What State of Silence does well, too, is painting this picture of the necessity of journalists in the lives of the average citizen. Images are exposed of families having to duck for bullet fire every single day to the point that it becomes part of their routine, and then you have immigrants abused by police and soldiers. It makes you think, if government officials are still willing to neglect those in need while being exposed by video footage of their mistreatment, what are they open to do when there aren’t cameras around to record their crimes? 

A man looks in front of him, on the right of the frame, in a still from the film State of Silence
State of Silence (Begin Again Films / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

It’s easy to point the finger at a country like Mexico with such a dire problem of corrupt government and organized crime who don’t like negative press. But we have to grapple with the fact that this is a world issue. In a chilling sequence showcasing former Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador giving a speech encouraging the masses to mistrust the press, one can be reminded of the likes of the former U.S. President’s tactics against the ill-reporting of his image. How he encouraged his followers to turn their backs on the news, dividing his people further.

State of Silence serves as a wake-up call that things aren’t that different from nation to nation. Today, under the presidency of a man who promised to be better than the last, the U.S. has seen students beaten bloody for protesting the actions of their politicians. The difference is that this doesn’t always have to end in tragedy, unlike those in Mexico who put their lives at risk by publishing an article or broadcasting a radio show. It isn’t a once-in-a-while incident in Mexico. It is their daily lives. State of Silence is a raw, at times brutally honest, and necessary viewing. One that could radiate a sense of hopelessness for some audiences but leave you appreciating those who venture into this profession that could cost one’s life.

State of Silence premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 10-12, 2024. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival!

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