We’ve all stared in awe as colorful explosions fill the sky with light as a sign of celebration and joyful revelry. Fireworks are visual catnip for almost all humans. But for the people of Tultepec, Mexico, pyrotechnics are their livelihood and the essence of their identity. Three quarters of the population in this small town in the State of Mexico, near Mexico City, devote their lives to fireworks and continue to evolve the ephemeral art form.
The artisans of Tultepec are the subjects of the documentary Brimstone & Glory, directed by Viktor Jakovleski and produced by Oscar nominee Benh Zeitlin. The stunning dreamlike images were captured during the annual National Pyrotechnic Festival and showcase the magic, danger, and craft behind the dazzling displays. Jakovleski notes that he became fascinated with Mexican festivities and the countrymen’s penchant for parties that go on for days after reading Octavio Paz’s El laberinto de la soledad. This firework fiesta would probably be right up the Nobel Prize winner’s alley.
In this exclusive clip, a local young boy explains that the massive 10-day celebration honors San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of pyrotechnics who once ran inside a hospital on fire to rescue people and came out unharmed. Now the saint watches over all those who play with fire in pursuit of amusement. A group of men is also seen preparing an imposing papier-mâché bull that is paraded around town as fireworks shoot out of it.
Craftsmen and craftswomen know the risks of their profession, as was made evident in December of 2016 when a fire engulfed Tultepec’s pyrotechnics market killing more than 20 people and injuring 70 more. The thrilling intersection between beauty and peril is what makes the spectacle of fireworks so entrancing. See the full trailer here.