By Christina Di Biase
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, born 1972 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, unveils truth through what is an inherently distorted medium. Film, appearing observational and objective, also holds a sense of romanticism that is difficult to avoid. Film naturally dances a line between fiction and reality. Visual imagery is powerful in that it expresses things that language cannot. Muñoz utilizes this dynamic in powerful short films that focus on the revealed histories of Puerto Rican landscapes.
“La Cueva Negra” (The Black Cave, 2013) is a vision of Puerto Rico’s sacred past and complicated present. The film is non-linear, with segmented narratives that are a balance between spoken word and quiet visuals. Two young boys adventuring through jungle interact with every part of their environment, while simultaneously noting the forgotten cars, graffiti, and what else has been left behind. The boys play on the ground of El Paso del Indio, a religious burial site in Puerto Rico, uncovered through road development. A sense of reflection is invoked regarding the history and myth of the land. The tension between the material present and a discovered knowledge of the past creates the crux of the film. It forces the viewer to think about how we interact with our landscapes and the history they hold. That interaction of past and present creates a new history of it's own.
Muñoz’s films all share these themes. They are beautiful to look at, but also invoke a deeper narrative. She leaves room for the audience to process information, refraining from filling in every blank. The information she relays directly is not overwhelming. She engages with the real world by consistently using locals in her films. She avoids a contrived narrative by allowing for improvisation. Her subjects' genuine interaction with their familiar environment creates a sense of authenticity, accessing a deeper self that Muñoz uses as a tool for transformation. Through Muñoz's work, we learn that one's personality is shaped by their relationship to their environment.