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Heart of Time, is drama about the lives of the people in Chiapas, Mexico. The film tells a simple story of boy meets girl. He’s a Zapatista guerilla. She’s a villager, newly betrothed to a man from the same village in exchange for a cow. It’s an excuse to show life in Chiapas: the village is a strange mix of modern and rustic. People wash their clothes and hair in streams, and they have no electricity or running water. Yet they have tidy, clean clothes and plenty to eat. The guerillas live in the mountains nearby, separate and different from the villagers but striving for the same goals: freedom, independence, and autonomy.

Heart of Time is transparent in its approach to storytelling, and that’s not a good thing. Local actors are cast to play versions of themselves and act out the scripted story. The script’s events — the betrothal, crossing the Federale checkpoints, the electric turbine arriving in town — are meant to illustrate what it is like to live in Chiapas.

“It’s a back-door documentary,” noted my wife. It’s a way to make a “documentary” about the Zapatistas and the indigenous people of Chiapas without having to follow them around for hundreds of hours and hoping for a story to emerge in the editing of the copious material. It’s a strategic and economical decision that produces a movie like Heart of Time in less time than it would take to make a documentary, and with less risk.

Unfortunately, the locals are mediocre actors at best. The fact that they speak a foreign language mitigates the bad acting to a degree. But when a character says “Emoción ... ?” and the drama calls for “Emoción?!?”, it’s clear that we’re seeing a low-budget, low-production-value effort.

One could argue that Heart of Time is better than nothing when you’re looking for a film about Chiapas. But your choice isn’t between this and nothing; it’s between this and 200 other films at the Denver Film Festival from 36 other countries around the world. Given those numbers, it’s hard to recommend this film over something else.