Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 7:30pm
Danny Lyon's El Otro Lado

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Max Nelson

El Otro Lado, Danny Lyon, 1978, digital projection, 60 mins

Deep in Mexico two brothers sit in a plaza discussing a broken fuel pump. In a few days they will leave for work. With their father and some friends they will ride a bus 1,300 miles north and enter the United States by walking through the desert. They call America “El Otro Lado,” the other side.

In 1970, the photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon moved to New Mexico. For the previous six years he’d been migrating between New York (where he was born in 1942), Chicago, and the South. He had served in Atlanta as SNCC’s official photographer at the height of the Civil Rights Movement; documented Freedom Summer in Mississippi; chronicled the demolition of Lower Manhattan’s prewar buildings; ridden with the Chicago Outlaws; and spent fourteen months taking pictures throughout the Texas prison system. Shortly after relocating to New Mexico he befriended an undocumented Mexican laborer named Eduardo Rivera, whom he more than once helped smuggle across the border while the two of them worked on building a house outside Bernalillo.

Soon Lyon started photographing a number of undocumented workers across the Mexican border: the baths they’d take in irrigation ditches, the detentions to which they’d be subjected, the arrests they’d face at the hands of La Migra (immigration). By 1977 he’d met a group from Querétaro—two young brothers, their father, and a small cluster of their friends—who made arduous pilgrimages to Arizona’s Maricopa County to work in the state’s citrus groves. He accumulated footage of them at home and collaborated with them on a filmed restaging of their passage through the desert. We see them playing cards, singing, sleeping, and cooking in the shade of the fields they’ve come to harvest.

Almost forty years later, the film Lyon made from that material remains both a daring political act and a concise masterwork of nonfiction cinema. Every scene of El Otro Lado is a precise, patient, and expansive delineation of what it was like to work in this setting under intense pressures and threats. In its mingling of fictional reenactment and straight observation, its luxurious scenes of musical performance, and the deft way it captures the constant lurking tension behind these men's conversations and hangout sessions, it gives an indelible record of a precarious, hunted living. “Last year I was caught four times,” one worker remembers in a title card before the party leaves Querétaro. “Oh,” his friend says, “so you’re a regular client.” - MN

Followed by a conversation with Nelson and Lyon.

A retrospective of Danny Lyon's work, previously at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the de Young Museum, will open at the Fotomuseum Winterthur later this month. He blogs regularly.

Max Nelson’s writings on film and literature have appeared in the Threepenny Review, n+1, Film Comment, Cinema Scope, and other publications. He is an editorial assistant at The New York Review of Books.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.