Editing Video with Subtitles: Zapotec to English

When our film maker participants interviewed Magda, she began answering their questions in Spanish but then switched over to Zapotec, an indigenous language thousands of years old that is spoken in villages throughout the Oaxaca valley.   Zapotec is an unwritten language.  To learn it, you must be phonetically agile.  With Eric at our side, he translated Magda’s Zapotec into English as she spoke.  This was one of the surprises of being on location in Teotitlan del Valle.  Many of the older people here speak very little Spanish, as we learned that afternoon, when Magda told us that she had not completed her education beyond second grade.  In all the years I have known her, I had assumed that she was a fluent Spanish-speaker and this was another discovery that unfolded during this week together.

I am at the table where our instructor Erica and participant Lauren are making the subtitles for the nearly completed video that is the product of our work this week together.  They are listening to each film clip and referencing the English translation that Eric made and then matching what Magda said in Zapotec to the English translation.  It is a process of question, answer, figuring out which answer matches to which frame.

In the background is the rug room as Las Granadas.  It is late February and over eighty degrees outside.  The sun is strong and the sky is dappled in white clouds.   Birds sing and dogs bark.  The rugs are tapestries of natural wool, bright oranges, reds, blues, greens, purples, gold.  In the kitchen on the center island is homemade flan baked by Eloisa waiting for our premiere fiesta tonight, when all the filmmakers and subjects will gather to see their films for the first time.  We’ll lay a table with homemade pizza, quesadillas made on the comal, aguas de jamaica and pepino, fruit, jicama and dip, mucho mezcal and cerveza.  It will be a grand finale before we all disperse tomorrow morning.

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