TIME Out There

Tales of The Mexican Suitcase

A new documentary about the lost negatives of Robert Capa, a pioneer in war photography, sheds light on Spain’s forgotten past.

For years there persisted a rumor that a suitcase, lost in the chaos of World War II, containing the negatives of photojournalists Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David “Chim” Seymour taken during the Spanish Civil War had survived. Decades later, the wayward suitcase was discovered in Mexico City, among the belongings of the Mexican ambassador to Vichy France and finally returned to Cornell Capa, the younger brother of Robert Capa and the founder of the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Now a documentary about the find, The Mexican Suitcase by director Trisha Ziff, expands on ICP’s recent exhibition on the negatives. The film showcases the photos and the photojournalists’ work during Spain’s civil war– a battle between communist and fascist that began in 1936 with a failed coup, and killed half a million people before General Franco won control in 1939– and the continuing struggle to come to terms with the country’s painful history.

Ziff weaves in personal, often painful accounts of biographies of those who had survived the war by fleeing Spain, many unable to forget even to this day. An exiled woman tenderly holds up an old, worn out fork while describing the hunger she experienced as a child. Another man recalls his teenage years spent eating and sleeping beside his gun. Along with those interviews are ones with a new generation of Spaniards who were only babies when Franco finally stepped down in the early ’70s. Only now are they seeking to connect with a past that has been unknown to them. Ziff says, “I was impacted by how even today 70 years after the war how the haunting memories of repression, dictatorship impact life in contemporary Spain. How this exile still defines the identity of young people—three generations later, and what 30 years of fascism has meant for the Spanish people.”

Within these diverging narratives, through various interviews with experts in the industry, the film pays tribute to the spirit of three extraordinary photographers Capa, Tara and Seymour who passionately believed that photographs could change and shape the way we see the world.

The Mexican Suitcase is screening for a limited time in New York City at the IFC Center from August 26, 2011 -September 1, 2011 and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle 5 from September 2, 2011 – September 8, 2011.

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