What It’s Like to Film in San Marcos, a Deserted Mexican Town That Is Completely Underwater

Tucked away from Mexico’s busy city streets and political drama is a small-scale battle being fought between man and nature. Rising tides have forced the residents of the small town of San Marcos away until there are only three families left. Los reyes del pueblo que no existe captures an enchanting tiny tragedy, the quiet desolation of a forgotten town that nature has come to reclaim.

But how does one find a sinking village? According to Los reyes del pueblo que no existe producer Hugo Espinosa, the villagers found director Betzabé García through a screening in the nearby community of Mazatlán. “Her first contact was with the villagers in the Picachos dam,” Espinosa remembered. Mexico began a spate of dam projects in the mid-2000s that flooded numerous small villages and displaced the townsfolk. San Marcos is just one of the area’s causalities.

“Nature has a very important role because the new inhabitants of San Marcos are animals. Nature has gradually begun to swallow the houses.”

García directed a short film in San Marcos shortly after. Venecia, Sinaloa was a narrative story about a young man trying to save the village by building bridges similar to those popular in the famous Italian sinking city. Her next film, Los reyes del pueblo que no existe, is a pastoral look at the town, with the camera slowly making its way through rivers that were once paths. It’s as if the filmmaker has come to terms with the town’s fate. García introduces audiences to the aging population who refuse to leave their home, no matter the watery inconvenience of encroaching tides.

This proved to be a tricky logistical problem for García and Espinosa to navigate with camera equipment. “It was minimal crew arriving at an abandoned village,” shared the producer. But even with pared-down manpower, they still faced issues with “either the weather conditions or access to the village.” Not to mention they had to contend with the escalating violence in Sinaloa, where San Marcos is located.

Espinosa spoke highly of the film’s naturalistic bent. “Nature has a very important role because the new inhabitants of San Marcos are animals. Nature has gradually begun to swallow the houses.” He still expressed admiration for the town’s remaining holdouts, including the resourceful Pani. “His is the story of a man who does something every day to improve the place where he lives. Despite everything that surrounds him, he does not lose hope.”

Though the town’s abandonment looks imminent, Espinosa doesn’t rule out a follow-up to Los reyes del pueblo que no existe. “Surely the people will continue like this, and nature will continue eating the whole village. Pani will continue to build the rest of the town, and its people will continue to live there until they die or until the water reaches where they are.” Only time will tell if the village will soldier on through another rainy season.

Kings of Nowhere screens at the MoMA on February 24 and 25, 2016.