Cockfighting is still legal in Mexico, but resistance is beginning to grow
13th December 2019 by Will Stewart
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker. Is El Porvenir a typical example of your work?
Josh Chertoff – I’m a filmmaker based in Brooklyn and have a production company called Bows & Arrows with Ben Altarescu who was the producer on El Porvenir. I’ve made a lot of different kinds of films but Alfredo and I have made a number of documentaries together in a similar style to El Porvenir. Our previous film Duke and The Buffalo was about a bison ranch in Colorado and explored some of the same kinds of themes. That film premiered at Tribeca and was turned into a series for History that we also co-directed.
Alfredo is mainly a doc filmmaker and cinematographer and is now back to making films on his own after a few years producing and DPing at CNN. He has a feature doc in the works called The Age of Water.
MadeGood – How did you find out about the Mexican cock fighting world, and what made you want to make a film about it?
Josh Chertoff – Alfredo grew up in Mexico and knew Abelardo through his father but the world of Mexican cockfighting was still foreign to all of us. Making this film was an adventure we all wanted to go on and that we thought other people might be interested in experiencing too. Cockfighting is a tradition that has deep roots in agricultural societies all around the world, including until relatively recently even the United States. The more we learned about this community in Mexico the more compelling the idea of making a film about it became.
Obviously cockfighting is a controversial subject and from the beginning our goal was really to remain as objective as possible. We wanted to challenge ourselves to set aside our own cultural biases and personal preconceptions and not pass judgment. We didn’t set out to answer any moral or ethical questions, or explicitly come down on any side – just to experience something.
MadeGood – From the outside it seems to me like they might be a bit more secretive about what is obviously a very violent sport, but they speak very proudly about it. Was it difficult to gain the trust of the people in the film, and gain access to film the fights etc? Apart from the mention of his son’s friends who thought it was animal cruelty, did you encounter anyone who questioned the morals of pitching animals against each other to the death, for sport?
Josh Chertoff – It definitely helped that Alfredo had a personal connection to Abelardo, and once Abelardo understood that we were sincere in wanting to approach the film objectively, I think he felt comfortable speaking to us candidly. And then because we were with Abelardo, the other cockfighters seemed okay with us being there as well.
Since the areas were so remote, and cockfighting is really ingrained in the culture, we didn’t encounter a lot of opposition to cockfighting. Cockfighters operate with a lot of autonomy there. But the generational divide is as you note a big theme in the film, and there’s definitely a growing movement across Mexico to ban cockfighting.
MadeGood – There are a few women present, but I think it’s fair to say it’s quite male dominated! One of your characters even mentions the masculinity of cockfighting. Please talk a bit about this.
Josh Chertoff – I think one of the things we really came to appreciate in making this film is that Abelardo and his fellow cockfighters see their game birds as extensions of themselves. For them, the birds aren’t just sport animals but incarnations of their masculinity and pride. In the film one of our subjects describes the rooster’s bravery as endless. I think many cockfighters see the cockfight as the ultimate showcase of bravery and courage, virtues that obviously aren’t exclusive to men but are tied into traditional conceptions of masculinity for many cockfighters.
MadeGood – How was it logistically working in Mexico, do you speak Spanish? Please tell me a bit about your crew, and the dynamics on and off set. In what way are the Victory Journal involved?
Josh Chertoff – Alfredo is from Mexico and his first language is Spanish, so he was the interpreter for all of us. Ben and I both speak a little Spanish but not enough to have gotten by on our own. We kept the production super small, just the three of us, with Alfredo and I co-directing and Ben producing. Alfredo and I each had a camera and Ben recorded sound as well so it was pretty much as bare bones as it gets, which enabled us to keep a low profile and stay adaptable on set.
After the film premiered at SXSW, Victory Journal approached us about releasing the film online. They were fans of the film and we were big fans of their work, so we were excited about working together and felt like their platform was the perfect home for El Porvenir.