Ten years in the making, Maureen Gosling’s Blossoms Of Fire is an inspirational documentary portrait of a world shrouded in myth and mystery.
For ages, the Zapotec culture of southern Mexico has been painted in popular literature as a type of matriarchal Shangri-La—populated with gorgeous women who rule over their men, and their society, with a firm hand. Indeed, the women profiled here exhibit a rare strength and confidence—but they aren’t superwomen.
They are mothers and wives and daughters who choose to lead,
sometimes against overwhelming odds. They aren’t beauties in the
classic sense. Except for their brightly colored embroidered skirts
they hold a rather plain and natural appearance. What’s special about
them is their inner strength and plainspoken attitude. These are women
who have thrived on their ability to speak the truth and probably
wouldn’t know how to survive otherwise.
The importance of Gosling’s film is that it offers not only a unique
perspective of women but of a native people and their developing
culture. The Zapotecs have had their struggles (including a
longstanding opposition to the Mexican government and a flirtation with
revolutionary movements) but overall, these are people filled with
goodness, open and free of pre-conceived judgement. For example, many
will be surprised at the acceptance and appreciation of gays and
This documentary succeeds in a number of small and surprising ways.
The narration, often delivered in the Zapotec language, with subtitles,
blends perfectly with telling images and authentic folk music. Gosling
uses these tools and her refined editing talents to create a smooth
pace that transports the viewer into the heart of the film and its
Many will hail Blossoms Of Fire as a feminist work, but that would
be oversimplification. It is a film that succeeds at documenting the
celebration of a gentle and persistent spirit. Like the best
documentaries, it informs and entertains in equal measure. We end up
learning a little about ourselves along the way.
A 16mm feature-length documentary film about the legendary people of
Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico made by Maureen Gosling, an award-winning
documentary filmmaker... living in Oakland, California
Meet the memorable, confident women of Mexico's deep south: the Zapotecs of Juchitan, Oaxaca.
Blossoms of Fire is a colorful, 75-minute celebration of their
lives and rich history. The 2000 film has been screened in dozens of
cities around the world and has won several awards, including best
documentary about Latin America by a non-Latino at the Havana
International Film Festival
The Zapotecs have four special characteristics. These are
a strong cultural identity including a living language;
a tradition of political activism;
historic tolerance of homosexuality, and
a healthy balance between men and women.
The region has generated folk songs and stories of strong, striking
women dressed in the brilliantly embroidered clothing from which the
film took its name. The culture has occasionally been sensationalized
as a matriarchal utopia, but Gosling's camera shows a complementary
connection between the men and women and a culture that values the
contributions of each sex.
The women and men of the 100,000-population Juchitan work and play
hard. Both play an economic role. Women are businesspeople, making
goods and selling in the marketplace while their children nap under
tables. They are bold, funny, and look you in the eye, said Gosling.
She theorizes that the Zapotecs' almost innate confidence might be
traced back hundreds of years to when their ancestors were an imperial
power. And perhaps, she added, because their land is poor in natural
resources, they haven't been exploited as much as some other indigenous
Maureen Gosling, Blossoms of Fire
Book by Maureen Gosling