El General

A film by Natalia Almada

US | 2009 | 83 minutes | Color/BW | DVD | English/Spanish | Subtitled | Order No. 09931


Past and present collide in this extraordinarily well crafted documentary when filmmaker Natalia Almada (ALL WATER HAS A PERFECT MEMORY), winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s US Directing Award for documentary, brings to life audio recordings she inherited from her grandmother. These recordings feature Alicia Calles’ reminiscences about her own father—Natalia’s great-grandfather—General Plutarco Elías Calles, a revolutionary general who became president of Mexico in 1924. In his time, Calles was called “El Bolshevique” and “El Jefe Máximo”, or “the foremost chief”. Today, he remains one of Mexico’s most controversial figures, illustrating both the idealism and injustices of the country’s history.

Through Alicia’s voice, this visually stunning, stylistically innovative film moves between the conflicting memories of a daughter grappling with her remembrances of her father and his violent public legacy. It draws exceptional strength from meticulously edited audio, haunting photographs, archival newsreels, and old Hollywood films, combined with an original evocative soundtrack, sweeping footage of modern-day Mexico City, and interviews with today’s working poor. EL GENERAL is a poetic and cinematic exploration of historical judgment, and a complex, arresting portrait of a family and country living under the shadows of the past.


"Highly Recommended...The film should be required viewing for courses in Mexican and Latin American Studies and would also support curriculum in history, sociology, and political science."

Educational Media Reviews Online

“Brilliant…brutally honest yet compassionate portrait of [Almada’s] family, her country, and her people, from the leaders who have promised the world to the peasants who have suffered for it.”

Josh Rosenblatt The Austin Chronicle

“For Almada, nation and family are intertwined, making El General a glorious collage of politics, history, terror and love."

Tom Burke Jane Bishop '51 Assoc. Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College

“A work of cinematic achievement that touches the viewer’s emotions as it provokes its understanding of the complex web of the personal and the social, reflecting how individual lives are placed at the junction of the past, the present and the future.”

Margarita De la Vega-Hurtado Programmer, Curator & Presenter of Programs in Latin American & Latino Cinema

“An extraordinarily courageous way to delve into the origins from which you come.”

Paper Magazine

“A moving statement on memory and legacy.”

The Seattle Times

“Natalia Almada paints an intimate portrait of Mexico.”

The Carpetbagger NYTimes.com

“A hypnotic and deeply compassionate portrait of the Mexican people and the forces that have shaped their country.”

Cara Mertes SUNfiltered

“The experimental structure, ethereal cinematography and beautiful original score create a vibrant portrait of fractured personal, historical and national memories.”

Roya Rastegar ColorLines

"Beautifully detailed and captivating."

Seattle Film Festival

“A beautiful lyrical evocation of Mexican history during the times of the revolution, as juxtaposed with events of more recent years.”

Juan Flores New York University


  • Cine Las Americas, Audience Award: Best Documentary Feature
  • Sundance Film Festival, Directing Award: US Documentary
  • Santiago Festival International de Cine (SANFIC)
  • Femcine Film Festival
  • Fundacion de Cine Huesca
  • Walker Art Center
  • Wexner Center for the Arts
  • Documenta Und Museum
  • Films from the South Film Festival
  • Festival International de Cine de Gijón
  • Encuentros del Otro Cine, Ecuador
  • Montreal World Film Festival
  • Ambulante Film Festival
  • Morelia International Film Festival
  • Guadalajara Film Festival
  • Los Angeles International Film Festival
  • DOK Leipzig
  • Seattle International Film Festival
  • San Diego Latino Film Festival
  • Chicago Filmmakers


Natalia Almada

Recipient of the 2012 MacArthur Genius Award, Natalia Almada combines artistic expression with social inquiry to make films that are both personal reflections and critical social commentaries. Her work straddles the boundaries of documentary, fiction, and experimental film. Her most recent film Todo lo demás (Everything Else) is a narrative feature starring Academy Award-nominated Adriana Barraza; it premiered at the New York Film Festival and was nominated for a Mexican Academy Award. El Velador (The Night Watchman) premiered at the 2011 Cannes Directors' Fortnight and broadcast on the award-winning PBS program POV, along with her other two feature documentaries Al otro lado (To The Other Side) and El General (The General). Almada's short film All Water Has a Perfect Memory premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and received the Best Documentary Short award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Almada was the recipient of the 2009 Best Documentary Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, USA Artists, The Herb Alpert Foundation, and MacDowell Colony. Almada graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and currently lives between Mexico City and San Francisco. (7/19)


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