EVERY DOCUMENTARY WORTH ITS SALT, no matter how balanced, has a point of view, an angle, a bias. Life is too complex to have it any other way. Every edit is an editorial decision. This documentary takes the side of the Zapatistas, the native Mayans in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas who rose up against their government on January 1, 1994--the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The Zapatistas took over five towns and 500 ranches, nearly one quarter of Chiapas. The government reacted, fighting flared up, people died, and since then an uneasy cease-fire has been in effect.

As in so many battles--the crisis in Kosovo being the most recent example--the reason for the conflict has become secondary to the conflict itself. Peace talks happen, then break down. Meanwhile, an anti-Zapatista paramilitary group calling itself "Peace and Justice" has moved in, striking fear in pro-Zapatista citizens despite their claims that they aren't violent. But then, those Zapatistas aren't always angels either....

Director Nettie Wild is a Canadian, and one reason the documentary works so well is that she acknowledges she's an outsider trying to learn more about the conflict. The Zapatistas--particularly the masked, pipe-smoking Subcomandante Marcos--are great at public relations: they draw international attention to their cause knowing full well how positive public opinion can help. Meanwhile, when the Peace and Justice people try similar tactics, they come off as just plain creepy. A Place Called Chiapas is an excellent documentary, shedding light upon the complex and continuing struggle in a small state in southern Mexico.

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