UNCG Dept of Media Studies News

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

MFA alum Monique Velasquez documents ‘Accidental Mummies’

Monique Velasquez, a 1995 graduate of UNCG’s MFA program in Film & Video Production, took full advantage of an amazing opportunity three years ago, and it’s still paying dividends.

Martina Guzmán, a journalist and filmmaker, recruited Velasquez to help her produce a documentary as part of a museum exhibit entitled, “The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato.”

Valesquez’s company, Valesquez Media, was in a unique position to participate in the project because of Monique’s bilingual skills as well as the fact the company had produced a documentary in the Mexican state of Guanajuato in 2006.

Velasquez said she and Guzmán —an award-winning journalist — had previously worked together on a documentary and had a solid working relationship. When Velasquez got the call in the summer of 2009, Guzmán was facing a time crunch.

“She was in a hurry and they were trying to get the exhibit together,” Velasquez said. “We went down [to Guanajuato] in July and spent about three weeks out there. We didn’t have a real plan but we knew the mummies would be on exhibit and the [exhibit] focused on the science of mummification.”

Velasquez landed in Guanajuato and she and Guzmán went to work. They conducted interviews with local cultural and history experts and captured the rich life of the town. They spoke with the curator of Guanajuato’s Museo de las Momias, or the Mummies Museum, when inspiration struck. 

“What we were thinking about doing was looking at the culture of death in that particular state,” Velasquez said. “We then thought of  [famous Mexican] portrait photographer Romualdo García, who did a lot of portraits of doctors and miners in Guanajuato. We used his book as a jumping off point.”

Some of García’s portraits of babies who had died prematurely captured Valesquez and Guzmán’s imagination.

“So you would see these photographs of babies with flowers — it was a fascinating cultural phenomenon about death,” Velasquez said. “It tied directly to the mummies [exhibit]. [The museum] claims they have the smallest mummy in the world.”

Velasquez and Guzmán set up their camera in one of García’s favorite backdrops in Guanajuato and asked people to dress in the style of García’s portrait subjects of the early 20th century. 

Velasquez and Guzmán then approached people on the street and asked them to participate in the documentary.  

“We [interviewed] young and old people, families with children, couples of different ages — we put that in as a tie-in to life and death in the city,” Velasquez said. “We sort of juxtaposed the people to these old photographs and to the new photographs we got when we were there.”

“Martina and I captured the history of death and what was happening at that time that the mummies were dated to,” Velasquez continued. “We kind of had a plotted out story arc that we were shooting for.”

After Velasquez and Guzmán captured their footage, they flew back to Detroit and the editing process began. A few months later, the 60-minute documentary film was broadcast on public television in Detroit. The “Accidental Mummy” exhibit has toured the country and is currently on display at the Natural Science Center of Greensboro. The exhibit runs through Dec. 30.

The Natural Science Center’s website notes that only one in 100 bodies buried in Guanajuato’s cemetery ever experience the process of mummification. Accidental mummies form in rare climates and conditions. The identity of the Guanajuato mummies has always been a mystery, but state-of-the-art diagnostic tools have given a reconstructed face and story to these amazing human relics that are more than 100 years old, according to the center’s website.

Velasquez said she remembers her time at UNCG fondly and credits her experiences in the MFA program with her success in her field of endeavor.

“One of the biggest and most advantageous exercises during my time at UNCG was to craft and develop story — how to do it visually, how to do it with sound, how to think about story,” Velasquez said. “That has been invaluable to me in my business. I’m really glad I went to UNCG. I feel like a got a big boost in my career because I learned how to tell a compelling story.”

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Written by uncgmst

November 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Posted in News & Events

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