The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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Bernardo Ruiz: Creating Documentaries Through a Personal Lens

“I am most interested in people’s stories,” said documentary filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz during his visit to Poly on April 30 in the Richard Perry Theater. During his presentation, he said he doesn’t care about the money or the fame; his goal is to report on the underrepresented and silenced histories and current issues in Latin America. In his documentaries, Ruiz brings all sides of the story together, including victims, witnesses, and scientists, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and the full truth is told. 

Ruiz is extremely dedicated to his job, willing to put his life on the line to tell important stories. His newest film, “El Equipo” (The Team) (2023), is about the 30,000+ forcibly disappeared people in Argentina during the “dirty war” (terrorist dictatorship) that occurred from 1974-1983. His most famous work is the Emmy-nominated film “El Reportero” (The Reporter) (2012). “El Reportero” follows a journalist in Tijuana, Mexico, illustrating how dangerous reporting is. According to Spanish teacher Maité Iracheta, for “El Reportero” Ruiz needed to hire bodyguards to follow him around and he “had to pay for a special insurance for if they get kidnapped or lose a body part.” Even though Ruiz’s work is difficult, risky, and lacks a huge salary, the intense passion he feels for his job motivates him to continue filming no matter the challenge. 

Iracheta and Ruiz have known each other for quite some time, since Ruiz’s mother, Dana Catherine, worked as a Spanish, Latin, and French teacher at Poly for 16 years. According to Iracheta, “Dana was very important for me when I came in because Dana lived in Mexico, in Guanajuato for many, many years.” Before moving to New York, Catherine met her husband and gave birth to Ruiz in Guanajuato. Iracheta said “Dana and I had this connection.” Having another faculty member from her home country made Iracheta feel less alone in a new school. Catherine and Iracheta formed a friendship, bonding over their heritage and culture and eventually meeting and connecting with each other’s families. 

Ever since meeting Ruiz, Iracheta always looks out for his work and finds ways to support him and his family. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Iracheta took her class on a field trip to the Brooklyn Museum where they were screening Ruiz’s film “El Reportero.” Additionally, the affinity group for people of Hispanic heritage, Unidad, applied for a program that Director of Service Learning and History Faculty Elijah Sivin recommended. They received money that they donated to Make the Road, an immigrant-led organization, where Jasmine, Ruiz’s wife works. She is Iranian, but speaks Spanish fluently. A few years ago, Iracheta brought Jasmine to Poly to speak in the Chapel during Hispanic Heritage Month. Iracheta talked to Unidad about Jasmine and her work and the group felt passionately about it and wanted to help. When she proposed the idea of Ruiz coming to Poly, she said everyone was eager and on board. 

In the theater, after an introduction from Iracheta where she expressed her love and gratitude for Ruiz, he showed clips of “El Reportero” and “El Equipo” to familiarize everyone with his work. After that, student panelists sat in a semi-circle to ask him questions. Before answering anything, Ruiz probed the students with questions of his own. According to Iracheta, “he was very interested in having a two-way conversation.” “He wants to understand the new generations,” she added. Some of his questions were: “What social media platforms are you using, and what are you using it for?” “How do you get your news?” “What platforms are you using to watch shows?” “How are you hearing about things?” “What do you think of the TikTok ban?” Even while presenting his work, Ruiz was trying to learn and improve his work, figuring out how to engage and reach younger audiences. Since he works visually, behind the camera, it is important for him to constantly think about the audience while making a film. 

“I like seeing him in action because it’s like his brain is constantly working.” – Maite Iracheta

After his presentation in the theater, Ruiz spent the rest of his day at Poly in classes and affinity groups, having smaller and more private conversations. Iracheta mentioned that in her more advanced classes, Ruiz asked the juniors and seniors about their futures and what fields they were interested in. Not only did he ask the students questions to improve his work, but he also wanted to form a connection and get to know the students. 

In the theater, some students revealed how their family was affected or involved in the Argentine conflict that Ruiz covered in “El Equipo. For example, panelist Tobias Petrzela’s ’26 grandmother and Lucas Basham’s ’24 great-grandfather had to flee their home country of Argentina and immigrate to the U.S. during the war out of fear of becoming one of the “disappeared.” The “disappeared” are Argentine people who are believed to have been abducted by the government. During the war they were tortured and killed, and thrown into unmarked graves. 

After answering the questions Ruiz had for them, the students asked Ruiz questions of their own. Iracheta loved the part of the presentation where Ruiz discussed his process filming a documentary. He spends years researching and interviewing scientists, victims and people involved in the event he is documenting. According to Ruiz, documentary filmmakers “are not fictionalizing the stories…The story is very carefully constructed.” Unlike other genres of movies, Ruiz said that documentary filmmakers are more down to earth and don’t censor anything. They are trying to get to the heart of the matter, discovering what truly happened in hopes of educating the public. 

Students from many different classes were required to attend Ruiz’s presentation including Spanish, history, and computer science. Director of DEIB Erika Freeman was on board with the idea of inviting Ruiz right away and made sure that all of the students were excused from their G Block classes. Many students told Iracheta that they found Ruiz very relatable and expressed their desire to explore more of his work. Iracheta said she hopes her students “get a better sense of how history matters so much in order to understand the present and prevent this from happening in the future.” She wants students to consider the power dynamics between the United States and Latin American countries; even though they are a part of the same continent, residents’ lives are completely different. 

Ruiz will continue working to tell the stories of the Latino community. For example, in September, he will release a documentary about the Latino vote. Ruiz is determined to do these stories justice, attempting to reach as many people as possible. He believes that “there are always fascinating stories to tell.”

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