Summer Interview (5): How filmmaker Roberto Hernández had to flee Mexico through a documentary

Director Roberto Hernández challenged the powerful Mexican government services with his film ‘Duda razonable’. He fled to the Netherlands and now teaches at Radboud University as an ‘artist in residence’.

‘Is it always so hot here in May’, Roberto Hernández asks as he goes downstairs after his lecture in the Erasmus building. Not that the instructor is not used to anything. IN Duda razonable. The story of dos secuestros one can see sweat dripping from his face during interviews with prisoners in Mascupana in the state of Tabasco, where it can easily reach 40 degrees.

As a law student, Hernández learned how corrupt the legal system in his home country is. “We had to learn the law by heart, but in court it was about who you knew and whether you wanted to pay bribes to get someone out.” He decided to use his knowledge and sense of justice to help innocent prisoners through stories. He did that before with the movies the tunnel (2006) and Probably guilty (2008).

doubtful reason (can be found on Netflix as a miniseries under the name Reasonable doubt: A tale of two kidnappings) tells the story of Hernández’s struggle to help four prisoners wrongfully imprisoned for attempted kidnapping. He manages quite easily to show that the men are sitting behind bars without evidence. They have been arrested, so it appears the Mexican public prosecutor and police are taking decisive action against crime.

“I do not want to hide that I am interfering in the process,” he says of his own role in the film. “I get a good lawyer for the four men, help find witnesses and reveal mistakes. By interfering in it, I can test the system. I want to be as transparent as possible for the viewer so that they can draw their own conclusion. ‘


doubtful reason starts with a collision. Héctor Muñoz’s car is hit by another car near a gas station. He goes out angrily to get a story. But as he stands next to the other car, he is shot in the hand by its driver. Munoz flees. Armed man, mentioned in the film with the initials ACP, tells the arriving police that Muñoz tried to kidnap him. In addition to Muñoz, the ACP also points to two men standing at the gas station with engine problems. A fourth man has been arrested elsewhere because he is said to have been involved in a previous kidnapping of the ACP sister.

Reasoned doubt. Video still image: Netflix

“Crime is still growing in Mexico, and the capacity to solve it is lacking,” explains filmmaker Hernández. “As a result, the prosecution has now become judges. It is not a problem for the elite because they mainly arrest people from the poorer strata of the population. The system is racist and discriminatory. The elite make sure they have bodyguards, and if they ever get in trouble, they bribe someone. Everyone knows what’s going on. I asked for a room filled with inmates in Mascupana who had been tortured during the police interrogation. Almost the whole room held out his hands. I asked for a room filled with police officers who believed that torture was not carried out during interrogations. No one raised their hand. ‘

‘Netflix did not dare leave that part of the film’

Hernández is fearless in his documentary. He films the outraged prosecutors every time they go in and out of court. He even manages to reveal who is responsible for the torture. “I could easily figure out who it is, but Netflix was afraid to let this role be included in the film,” he says. ‘The local newspapers have published about it. After this film, those in charge were put on the front page with name and photo. Yet it has had no consequences. They are still in place. A prosecutor has even been promoted to Mexico City, he is now in charge of an area of ​​eighteen million inhabitants. ‘

Roberto Hernandez. Photo: David van Haren

During the trial, the van from the lawyer arranged by Hernández bursts into flames while driving. The lawyer is sitting in the van with two expert witnesses who have just undermined the prosecutor’s story in a reconstruction. The doors of the van do not open, but the group manages to save itself and is sure that this is a deliberate intention. The lawyer, who has previously worked for the prosecutors and is seen as a defector, is also being threatened on the phone.

Journalists disappear

Hernández decides at that moment that he must leave his country. “Many journalists are disappearing in Mexico. I fled to Holland with my family. We have friends here, I had been there before and have a fascination with cycling. I applied for asylum as a refugee and got it. ” He thinks he may one day return to Mexico. “But only if the people I have bothered with you have no more power.”

Hernández is happy with his lectures in Nijmegen. whose artist in residence in the Spanish course he gives lectures in a row The culture of human rights in the world Spanish speaking (Human rights and culture in the Latin American world). ‘I’ve been here for almost a year now. Finally, I have something to do and the students are amazing. ‘ This summer, Hernández will learn Dutch and complete his thesis.

Reasoned doubt. Video still image: Netflix

For the prisoners – note: a spoiler (!) Follows – the movie does not end well. One is published, the other three also appear to be published because of Hernández’s work. But the Mexican prosecutors do not care about bad publicity, appeal at the last minute and sentence them to three to fifty years in prison.

doubtful reason got a lot of attention in Mexico. The president has said something about it, as has a member of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reviews the case and the men can be released, given a new trial or upheld a previous shorter sentence. Although he is cynical about the system, Hernández still has hope for these prisoners. ‘I hope
especially that the Supreme Court makes a decision that will make an impression. Something needs to change. ‘

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