La maleta mexicana
The Mexican Suitcase

A film by Trisha Ziff

Mexico/Spain, Documentary, 2011
86 min, HDV/35mm, Color/Black & White
English, Spanish with English subtitles


Photojournalists Robert Capa, David Seymour, and Gerda Taro met in Paris in 1936 and traveled to Spain to document the Civil War. Seventy years later in 2007, a suitcase containing some of their original negatives, originally thought to have been lost and never before published, was found in the back of a closet in Mexico City. LA MALETA MEXICANA is about the power and fragility of memory, about the historical ties between Mexico and Spain, and about the search for the truth. Along with other renowned collaborators, John Sayles served as an advisor on this ambitious and thoughtful film, which has screened at festivals including San Sebastián and Morelia International. Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, 2012.


Tres fotoperiodistas, Robert Capa, David Seymour y Gerda Taro, se encontraron en París en 1936 y viajaron a España para documentar la Guerra Civil. Setenta años después, en 2007, una maleta que contiene varios de los negativos originales, hasta entonces considerados como perdidos y nunca antes publicados, es encontrada al fondo de un armario en la Ciudad de México. LA MALETA MEXICANA trata acerca del poder y la fragilidad de la memoria, los lazos históricos entre México y España, y acerca de la búsqueda de la verdad. Película ganadora del Premio de la Audiencia al Mejor Largomentraje Documental en el Cine Las Américas International Film Festival, 2012.


Trisha Ziff

Trisha Ziff is a curator of contemporary photography, filmmaker and Guggenheim scholar. Director of Chevolution, Ziff also produced the documentary Oaxacalifornia, was a co-producer of My Mexican Shiva, and executive producer of 9months 9days. She is currently in development on her next project, Pirate Copy, a documentary about intellectual rights and global pirating. Trisha lives in Mexico City with her son, Julio.



Producer: Eamon O'Farrill
Production Companies: 212 Berlin
Screenwriter: Trisha Ziff
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Editor: Luis Lopez
Sound Design: Yuri Laguna, Amanda Villavieja
Music: Michael Nyman


Program Notes

“Without memory there is no future.” This is one of the many truths exposed in THE MEXICAN SUITCASE (Trisha Ziff, 2012), a documentary that gets close to a myth; a photographic archive that was thought lost for decades, and to a reality; an armed conflict that divided a whole country. Almost a century later, the images contained in the archive speak freshly of events that to this day remain current in the ideals and convictions that caused them, and of the work of photographers who were re-inventing the way photojournalism worked in the coverage of armed conflict.

The story of the Mexican suitcase is that of a collection of negatives shot by three Jewish immigrants who met in Paris in 1935, and decided to travel to Spain and join the Republican front to fight the raising forces of fascism with their cameras, telling the story of a brutal war that was not only confronting fellow countrymen against each other, but setting the theater of what would be the Second World War.

Robert Capa (Budapest, October 22, 1913 – Thai Binh, May 25, 1954), Gerda Taro (1 August 1910, Stuttgart - 26 July 1937, near Brunete), and David Seymour (Warsaw, November 20, 1911 – Suez, November 10, 1956) documented the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, sending their images for the world to witness in dailies and magazines such as Life, Ce Soir, Regards, and Vu. In a fate of destiny dictated by the German invasion to France in 1939, the original negatives ended up forgotten at the bottom of a closet in Mexico City for seventy years, until they were resurfaced by the hand of filmmaker Trisha Ziff, who took the negatives to the International Center of Photography in New York City, and fitted a crucial missing piece in the now famous body of work of Robert Capa.

The romantic tale of the long disappeared suitcase, contrasts sharply with the story told by the 126 rolls of film found in the lost archives. These pictures report in a direct way and at close range, the drama, the cruelty, the exhilaration, and the senselessness of war. The photographers work shoulder to shoulder with the foot soldiers of the Republican forces, with a civilian population ravaged by aerial bombings and food shortages, with thousands of exiles that had to leave everything behind in order to survive.

But these negatives also contain another story; that of the three photographers who for the first time in history, documented the act of war from the front lines, not before or after, but during battle. We find ourselves practically witnessing the invention of a new profession, the war photographer, and also in front of that larger than life character who was Robert Capa, the young Hungarian immigrant who would turn out to be the war photographer of the twentieth century, with his famous maxim that declared “If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” The mythological Robert Capa is revealed by the Mexican suitcase, which contains photographs often attributed to Capa but which in reality were the magnificent and seminal work of Gerda Taro, who originally joined Capa into the battelfields publishing under the label Photo Robert Capa, but eventually published under her own Photo Taro label, covering the Valencia front and other battles on her own; and the invaluable contribution of David “Chim” Seymour, who continued documenting the war through the experience of hundreds of exiles who were able to leave Europe for Mexico at the end of the war.

A fourth and much more obscure character, who is crucial to the survival of the negatives and the myth of the Mexican suitcase is Imre "Csiki" Weiss (1911–2006), Capa’s laboratorist, who printed, catalogued, and eventually took action to try to ensure the preservation of the negatives.

As a documentary, THE MEXICAN SUITCASE succeeds in transporting to the present day the reality experienced by the photographers, and by the subjects and events portrayed in their negatives. Director Trisha Ziff maintains a delicate balance in telling a complex and fascinating story, and succeeds in highlighting the meaning of the resurgence of such a significant historical record, the contextual ambiguities posed by the institutionalization of the archive, and the resurgence of painful memories of a period in time from which many its own protagonists have chosen not to talk about, or remember.

Eugenio del Bosque – Cine Las Americas



Wednesday, September 19 - 7:00 PM

Jones Auditorium at the Ragsdale Center

St. Edward’s University

3001 S. Congress Ave. [Map] [Parking Directions]


Free admission

Presented as part of the series
Transitions in Spanish Cinema [Read more]