The first shots of Aaron Schock's jewel of a documentary, Circo, show a row of electric bulbs hanging between the two masts holding a circus tent , followed by the mundane view of clothes on a drying line, although the backdrop of the circus tent is not so mundane. We see then the profile of a young girl, her hair ruffled by the wind as she travels on the back of a pick up truck, her face welcoming not only the breeze, but also their next stop, their next performance, her upcoming life...
Beautifully photographed, the camera warmly caresses the Ponce family as they go on their daily routines of running a small travelling circus moving from town to town, from village to village, throughout the dusty landscapes of Northern Mexico. Circo Mexico is part of a century long tradition for the Ponces, the old patriarch with four sons, each one running their own circus, Circo Mexico being one of them, surviving in an increasingly difficult economic environment, facing stiff competitions from other operators, struggling to get the money to pay for the monthly instalments for their motors, as one of the little girls muses that Tino, her dad, had already missed two payments for one of the big trucks.
Circo follows the adventures of the travelling circus through the eyes of Tino Ponce, whom we see in one of the opening scenes recording the announcement to be broadcasted to the small town by a van driven by his father, the actual owner of the circus, distributing tickets to the children for the evening function, we are also privileged to see their mesmerised faces as they watch the antics of Cascaritas, one of Tino's children, gyrating and gyrating in the air...
Tino is between two generations, that of his elderly father, the tradition, and that of his children, who all perform in the arena, a new generation which will have to find ways to continue with the tradition. His wife, Yvonne, is tired of the endless travelling, of the energies that the circus demands from all of them, the children formal schooling is almost non existent, one of her daughters can hardly write a few words and her own name, whilst her young sister is proud to have been accepted into the local kindergarten as she wants to learn to read, to write, and all about numbers.
Amidst the chores of finding water when they get into a new location, in a poetic scene we see one of the young girls, Alexa, drinking water from a pipe whilst her elders fill the tanks on the back of their pick up truck, just to be replaced by another scene of her mother washing the dishes, and then the youngsters training for their evening performances, when not playing as most children do. In a poignant scene, as they drive through the town, Cascaritas observes that the children there just goes to school and play afterwards, nothing else, none of the work they have to do to get ready for the function, to set up the tent and performances.
Tino's life is crucial to understand the crossroads he is facing, between his family and his life in the circus; between the pressure of keeping a travellers way of life and that of the environment around him, pulling, pulling his performers as his children get attracted by life in the city, as their audience slowly dwindles away...
Aaron Schock's single camera has delivered a compelling and poetic account of a way of life which is slowly and inexorably disappearing, the joys and the individuality of a circus life as entertainment being replaced by anaesthetized and amorphous mass media. Indie band Calexico 's score rounds up this beautiful documentary.
I laughed, I cried, when I saw the Ponce family assist to the premiere of Circo at the Morelia International Film Festival, to a Q&A session, their zest for life is so inspiring.
CIRCO is an intimate, sympathetic portrait of a Mexican family struggling to stay together despite mounting debt, dwindling audiences, and a simmering conflict that threatens a once-vibrant family tradition.
This critically acclaimed documentary featuring music from Alt American country group Calexico, is available to own on DVD on 12th September 2011, RRP £12.99.
Driven by a dream to lead his parents’ circus to success, ringmaster Tino Ponce focuses the energy of his entire family, including his four children, towards this singular goal. But his wife Yvonne is determined to make a change: exhausted and feeling exploited by her in-laws, she longs to save her children from a childhood lost to labouring in the circus that has been part of Tino’s family for seven generations.
Filmed in rural Mexico, award-winning film-maker Aaron Schock’s debut feature is both documentary and cinematic road movie, inviting the viewer into the luminous world of a travelling circus while examining the universal themes of family bonds, filial responsibility, and the weight of cultural inheritance. Through an intricately woven story of a marriage in trouble and a family tradition that hangs in the balance, Circo asks: to whom, and to what, should we ultimately owe our allegiances?
- Director Aaron Schock on the making of CIRCO
- Calexico and the making of the CIRCO score
- Update on the Ponce family.
Trailer and images © The Distributors.