for Cinetalk.net

Tultepec is Mexico’s fireworks capital. Viktor Jakovleski’s Brimstone and Glory documents the preparation and final presentation of the town’s annual pyrotechnics festival. The festivities celebrate San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks makers. It showcases two main attractions – the Castles of Fire day, followed by the day of the Burning of the Bulls.

The cinematography is sublime thanks to Tobias Von Dem Borne. The play of dark and light is perfectly balanced. Everything is well exposed – which must be a challenge with so much contrast from the fire on screen. The experience is aural as well as visual. The various pop, whistle, and fizz sounds are a stimulating soundtrack as is, but Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin have also scored a great musical backdrop. Percussion builds tension alongside the townspeople’s excitement leading up to the Bulls day, which appears to incite much more fanfare than the previous day’s Castle celebration. It is a frenzy of beats, huge papier maché bulls, and of course, explosives.

Brimstone and Glory focuses more on the sensorial and experiential than on the explanatory. Stories and personal accounts are kept to a minimum, which avoids the dry and stagnant nature of some documentaries. Certain slow motion scenes were captured by high speed (“Phantom”) camera at 1500 frames per second. Lit ash falls through space, and globs of light float like fireflies. Daily preparation for the festival was shot with an ultra wide-angle camera – causing slight distortion at the edges of the screen. A few sequences were made by the workers, using a GoPro camera. The effect is rather dizzying (a warning to those who experience motion sickness!).

Though the situations at hand seem dazzling, it’s not all glory. There are injuries. Not only during prep but also during the events themselves. Even the Director was injured while shooting his footage. Natural forces such as wind, rain and lightning put the fireworks production in jeopardy. In one scene, rain causes multiple workers to run and hurry to protect their work from the elements. Even they seem perplexed when part of the Castle structure catches fire. Part of their job is evidently ‘having balls’, as one of the more courageous workers says. Even young helpers understand they could lose limb and life by taking up jobs in the city’s main career field: pyrotechnics.

These people are not chemists. They mix their ingredients with only approximate measurements. They are thus fully aware of the dangers they face. Workers are lost on a daily basis due to accidents. Tultepec is a ticking time-bomb even outside of the festival season. Nevertheless, it makes for very interesting documentary subject matter. Beautiful eye candy and an exploration of a town most of the world has never heard of.

 

Screenings:

November 10th, 8:45 pm
Cinemateque Quebecoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin
with English subtitles

November 19th, 6:30 pm
Cinemateque Quebecoise – Salle Principale
with English subtitles

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