Vivos is a documentary feature film by artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei, portraying the human impact of Mexico’s ongoing crisis of enforced disappearances. On the night of September 26, 2014, a convoy of students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in drug cartel-afflicted Guerrero state, travelling in buses in the city of Iguala, were brutally attacked by police forces and other masked assailants. In the course of the night, six people were killed, dozens more were wounded, and 43 students were forcibly disappeared.
Featuring interviews with family members and surviving classmates, as well as human rights experts and international investigators involved with the case, Vivos depicts the emotional impasse the families experience. As they face the still unaccounted-for absence of their loved ones, their family lives irrevocably fractured, the pain of their loss is compounded by the investigating authorities’ repeated attempts to mislead and to obstruct the official investigation.
The latest of Ai Weiwei’s films highlighting issues of systemic injustice, Vivos documents the aspirations, communal solidarity, and day-to-day lives of the griefstricken but determined families, as they demand the authorities provide answers about the crimes committed that night and disclose the whereabouts of the missing students. United behind the rallying cry, ‘Alive, they took them! Alive, we want them back!’, the families’ tragic but defiant struggle embodies the psychological and emotional toll of endemic violence on Mexican society, where disappearances have become a national crisis, with over 40,000 persons officially missing as of 2018.
Wrestling with the gross abuses of institutional power that pervade Mexican society, with its staggering contrasts of power and poverty, and the crimes and impunities that permeate public life, the mass demonstrations led by the families of the missing 43 students blossom as a defiant assertion of life.