Both of us are sitting with a cup of coffee in front of our laptops as we start the video call. For her it's only half past eight in the morning, but for me, my workday is almost over due to an eight hour time difference between Mexico and the Netherlands. I ask her if she just rolled out of bed, but she confesses that she's been awake for a while.
Soon, we get into the topic of how Zitla ended up with Metropolis. She doesn't need much time to think about it: it was in 2008 during the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico when she was approached by Nina Rodriguez. Nina worked for the film festival and knew that Metropolis, which was just getting started at the time, was looking for a correspondent in Mexico. After Nina saw Zitla's documentary "Sergio y el danzón" at the film festival, she contacted Zitla. That's how it all started.
I'm curious about Zitla's background. After all, it's no easy feat to have your documentary screened at a film festival at the age of twenty-five. So, I ask her when she realized she wanted to be a filmmaker: "When I was eight, my brother and I received a camera from our parents for Reyes Magos. We filmed everything around us, especially each other. Sometimes he had to act for the camera, other times it was my turn." It's no wonder that after secondary school, Zitla applied to the film program at UNAM, the most prestigious university in Latin America. Along with fourteen others, she managed to get a place in the program, where she studied for a total of six years.
Working with Metropolis
During her studies, she started working as a correspondent for Metropolis. When I ask her about the report that impressed her most, she talks about an episode from 2014. She visited an organization in the state of Hidalgo that offers a night walk as a tourist attraction, where people can supposedly experience what it’s like to cross the Mexico-US border illegally. The organization's goal is to make young Mexicans aware of how dangerous it is to do this, in the hope that they will reconsider. Zitla talks extensively about her experience during the trip:
"I read a short post about this activity on the internet. I grabbed my backpack and took the bus to Hidalgo. I thought the hike would take place during the day, but upon arrival, I discovered that we would be going out in the middle of the night. I was dressed way too lightly, and I had no idea that we would be moving intensively for about three to four hours in the middle of the forest. It was a very intense night that left a strong impression on me."
I ask Zitla about the kinds of people in her group. She explains to me that there were two types of people: unsuspecting tourists herded by the organizers, and the organizers and relatives themselves who deliberately took the journey to commemorate their loved ones who died during the border crossing. After the challenging journey, the group ended up at a mountain illuminated with hundreds of torches in memory of all the victims who didn't survive the journey.
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For those who have seen Zitla's reports, it's clear that her talent lies in making people comfortable in front of the camera. I'm curious about how she accomplishes this, and she says, "I really use my intuition for that. I try to interact with people in the way that makes them most comfortable. This quickly puts people at ease with me, and I often end up hearing their life stories. Additionally, I always try to be neutral and not judge anyone, even if it might go against my principles. That's the art of being a documentary maker."
You don't always succeed
So, when I ask Zitla about her most challenging report to shoot, it's no surprise that she refers to a time when she couldn't make one of the characters feel at ease. This happened for the first time in her most recent recording for Metropolis. The episode is about how people seek love. Zitla follows a man who calls himself "el maestro de seducción" (the seduction coach). He teaches other men (who attend his course) how to approach a woman and ask for her number.
"It was challenging because on the one hand, the camera had to be hidden so as not to sabotage the students of the maestro in their ‘conquests with women’, as they call it themselves. On the other hand, because we were filming, the pressure felt higher for the seduction coach and his students to succeed in ‘conquesting’ a girl. Especially when you understand the context of my country. Mexico has quite a macho culture where men have the feeling that they cannot be too vulnerable. Because the maestro and his students didn’t succeed in winning as many phone numbers as they expected, I made an appointment with one of the students to film him another day. Unfortunately, he never showed up. In my whole career as a Metropolis correspondent, that never happened to me."
From the Metropolis office, we send out various topics to all our correspondents from around the world every six weeks. It's the correspondent’s task to send in pitches with different ideas. There's hardly a round where Zitla doesn't submit an idea. However, the reports for Metropolis and other film projects aren't the only work she's involved in. I discover this when I ask about her secret talent.
Zitla talks about the accident she experienced two years ago. Months of rehabilitation and various therapies awaited her. What also helped in her recovery was Reiki. Something she was not unfamiliar with because she learned Reiki in 2017. She learned so much about it during her recovery that she now gives Reiki treatments herself.
Moreover, the period after the accident inspired Zitla for her new project: "During my recovery, I realized how difficult the process is to find a specialist who can actually help you. I received many wrong diagnoses. That's how I got the idea to make a documentary about someone going through this process. I've just started writing a film plan, so I can't provide more information than this," she appoints.
Zitla smiles when I ask her why she enjoys her work as a correspondent for Metropolis so much: ‘’I love to find people who do extraordinary things. I want to know everything about them: their way of seeing life, their motivations of doing things in different ways, their passions. All these factors motivate me to always look for new people to meet, and share their stories through the platform I can offer them.’’
When Zitla talks about the contrasting people she meets in her work, I have to think immediately about one of my favorite reports from Zitla, the episode about menstruation. Not only does she interview a group of young activists about the subject, but also an older man who does not want to know anything about the subject. It’s the perfect example of Zitla being willing to listen to different perspectives.
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To conclude the interview, I ask Zitla if Metropolis has brought her something. She has a clear answer: "During the period when Metropolis was temporarily off the air, I also stopped taking on film productions for a while. I was getting more and more production tasks offered, even though that's not where my passion lies. During that time, I shifted my focus more towards Reiki, as I mentioned earlier.
When Metropolis resumed a few years later and I was asked to return as a correspondent, I realized how much I had missed this profession. I never thought I would be working in television again. I've since picked it up again and am working on developing a film plan for a new documentary. So, my return to Metropolis made me realize that filmmaking is what I love most."