Bernardo Ruiz is the director of Reportero, a documentary about the Tijuana newsweekly Zeta that debuted on PBS. Before participating in a panel on vigilance and democracy in the post-newspaper age, he talked in the Zócalo green room about finding the sweet spot between cinema and journalism, a hidden talent that has something to do with persuasion, and what needs to happen in the morning before anyone can talk to him.
What’s your favorite documentary, besides your own?
My documentary is definitely not my favorite film. That’s a really difficult question. One film that had a huge impact on me was The Battle of Chile, Patricio Guzmán’s film. It’s basically chronicling the final years of the Allende presidency in Chile, and the Pinochet coup. That really opened up my perspective on what a film could be. On the one hand that film, on the other hand a film like Sherman’s March.
Ask yourself a question, then answer it.
Do you consider yourself a journalist or a filmmaker? I would say that I work in that hybrid space in between journalism and cinema, and I think I’m most interested in projects or stories where I can double-down on a theme and spend time with a story in a way that short-form journalism doesn’t allow you to do. A project like Reportero I began researching in 2007, and I was in production for two-and-a-half years. I like working in a narrative nonfiction space but also finding ways to tell stories in a more cinematic, maybe a more lyrical way.
How are you different from who you were 10 years ago?
I think the biggest thing as a filmmaker is that I’ve been lucky enough to have a little bit of support and some forward momentum with my projects, and a lot of the work or themes that I started working on in my 20s have, by being stubborn and sticking with those themes, that work has paid off 10 years later.
No one should talk to you in the morning until you’ve …
Had two cups of coffee.
You directed a documentary about Roberto Clemente. Did you play baseball as a kid?
I was a terrible athlete. I played soccer—was more of a soccer person than a baseball person.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I’d like to be able to fly, or to read people’s minds.
Who was your first crush?
I think it was second grade, her name was Christina. Unfortunately she passed away, but she was my first crush.
What’s your hidden talent?
I can’t reveal that hidden talent because part of it has to do with my job of producing. But I can give you a hint: it has something to do with the powers of persuasion.
What’s the last movie you paid to see in a theater?
I went to see a revival of Wild at Heart in Atlanta, Georgia.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
I think when I was younger than 10, I was given a chemistry set—it was an old-fashioned chemistry set in a wooden box with glass beakers, the type of thing that parents would not give their children these days. I remember being fascinated by the powders and liquids, and creating messes. The opportunity to experiment was very exciting to me.