In his 36 years as a taxi driver, Raimundo has survived 28 assaults, seven carjacking attempts, one stabbing, an overturned vehicle and five surgeries. He’s driven up to 10 people at once, talked a person out of committing suicide in his car on two separate occasions, and has broken his personal record of driving 36 hours straight. That feat earned him 2,000 pesos, which is roughly $110.
In the opening scene of Itziar Garaluce’s debut documentary, Taxi Libre (or On-Duty Taxi), Mexico City taxi driver Raimundo recites the numbers of his illnesses and incidents as if he memorized and rehearsed them hundreds of times by retelling each of his passengers. From the backseat we get a metaphorical front row to the stories told by the various characters, who speak candidly as if holding a microphone center stage. Suddenly the viewer transforms from spectator to passenger, and is then treated to the moving car’s view through the windows. The conversations are bridged by a rearview mirror.
- Courtesy Itziar Garaluce
As a taxi driver in Mexico City, Raimundo faces kindness, corruption and crime from the people he hauls around.
“The idea of working with taxi drivers came up a long time ago, when I arrived to Mexico City seven years ago,” says the cinematographer from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. “Everything felt like a sensory explosion to me, the sounds, forms and colors -- much different from what I knew. Taxis seemed exotic and full of life; personalized with adornments and even paintings sometimes. I was very drawn to their world and the idea of documenting the experience of traveling in Mexico City,” she says.
Throughout the years Mexico City’s reputation has either charmed foreigners and locals alike with its history and extensive cultural heritage, or completely turned off people from ever stepping foot in a city with such high crime rates. The truth is that even with drug wars and increasing safety concerns in other areas of the country, the city recently underwent a security upgrade with street cameras installed and the expansion of the police force (one cop for every 100 people). It was even most recently named one of the 52 Places to Go in 2016 by The New York Times.
But under the looming shadow of Uber, Garaluce spotlights the cultural significance of the people who know the streets by heart, and their stories shed light on their humanity by reversing the fears often felt by civilians to empathizing with the risks the public workers face every day in their jobs.
“When you hear about kidnappings, sexual assaults and robberies in the news, you always hear the taxi driver did it,” says Gonzalo, another driver interviewed in the film. He began driving six months ago after losing his job handling finances for a political party. He has already been robbed a few times and inadvertently participated as a driver for several drug deals.
“If you don't know better, you say ‘all right,’ but then you realize that you are involved in a crime -- even if you are not committing it, you are participating as an accomplice,” he says.
The film features long shots of rosaries and other religious mementos and ornaments swinging from the rearview mirror, meant to keep the drivers safe in the city of almost 9 million people.
Considered a necessity of the workplace for many, rosaries and religious statues decorate dashboards and rearview mirrors of many Mexican Taxis.
“There are some drivers -- you can tell by looking at them -- they’ve lived through so many things, they are not fond of remembering and telling their stories,” says the taxi enthusiast.
Garaluce recalls noticing every taxi driver she interviewed shared a specific way of retelling their stories.
“They all remember the details of their trajectories not just by the happenings, but also with what preceded them,” she says. “The streets they were crossing, the turns they made, and where they were coming from.”
The video artist who resides in Mexico City where she works with bands likeTorreblanca,Silva de Alegria and Drama Queers, among many others. She is also a contributor to Animasivo, a festival dedicated to promoting contemporary animation in Mexico sponsored by the National Council of Culture and Arts in Mexico (CONACULTA) -- which also provided the funding and support for On-Duty Taxi. This is her first documentary, and also the first time she will be showing her solo work outside of Mexico.
- Raul Batiz Landeros
Garaluce here with Chiquis, her loving sidekick, back home in Mexico City.
In a city that’s been alive and thriving since it’s origins as the city of Tenochtitlan in 1325, On-Duty Taxi shows the living history outside of the data and books. One of the drivers summarizes their role, “This is a beautiful job, it is very noble. You meet all kinds of people, stories and anecdotes, but it is also very tiring and dangerous.”