British filmmaker documents life in a Mexican asylum run by the inmates


I discovered Mark Aitken’s film-in-progress, Dead When I Got Here, through Molly Molloy’s Frontera List and became a backer of his Kickstarter project. The filmmaker is seeking support to turn his hours of footage taken in a mental asylum run by its own patients outside Ciudad Juárez into a documentary film. In Aitken’s words: “In 2011 I visited the Vision & Action mental asylum in Mexico run by its own patients. I’d been told that filming anywhere along the US/Mexican border was dangerous – especially in Juárez, murder capital of the world. The asylum is out in the desert, on the curdled fringe of that city and I figured it would be safer to film there than on the streets…The people I met and filmed are all recovering from the trauma of living in Juárez where 8 people are murdered each day with impunity. These people manage the asylum with empathy and very little else. Not to be pitied – they set an example we can only hope to understand and emulate. We are to be humbled by their determination to survive.”

Aitken chose to follow the story of one inmate, Josué, who is now managing the asylum six years after he was brought there, close to death. Remarkably, Josué’s daughter – who hadn’t heard from her father in 22 years and thought he was dead – found a trailer for the film online and contacted Aitken. He filmed their reunion, which will be part of the final film. I find the footage mesmerizing, a glimpse into a community of people living on the edge of the world we know – physically and mentally. Perhaps inhumanity is what landed them there, but whatever shards they have left allow them to survive. If you are interested in supporting the project, visit the Kickstarter page or the film’s website.