Tarzan Lopez (2007)

Summer of 2005: The traveling circus Rey Gitano pitches its highest tent in the middle of the military complex known as Campo Marte, headquarters of the Guatemalan army. On one side, it sits under the lookout turrets of the “Guardia de Honor”, home to elite army units. On another, it is flanked by a compound of officer’s housing. Behind it is the sprawl of the Army Stadium, and in front is a concrete park proudly displaying old pieces of artillery mounted on pedestals.

The circus erects its own perimeter of silver trailers and mobile homes. They are parked end to end, forming a solid barrier against the outside world. Their metal surfaces are decorated with sad/happy clown faces and roaring tigers which beckon silently to the soldiers and cadets. There is an unspoken counterpoint in the meeting of these two architectures and philosophies. Surrounding the circus and the military complex is the constant ebb and flow of metropolitan traffic.

Rey Gitano, the first circus in Guatemala, was founded by Mary Magdalene McCormick Beltetón and Manuel Asunción López in the 1930’s. Its story is one of family traditions, romantic rebellion against the passage of time, and survival in the face of difficult odds. Little is known about the arrival in Guatemala of the Irish-Hungarian Mary Magdalene, and of her love affair with her Guatemalan husband Manuel. However, the circus became known as Circo Quetzal in the 1940’s and 50’s, while during the 60’s it went through several incarnations: Circo Emperador, Circo de la Muerte, and most famously, Circo Rex, which in the 70’s became El Circo Rey Gitano.
Mary and Manuel had twelve children, all of whom were integrated into the family business. The most charismatic of their children was Alfonso Aurelio López. He came to be known as “Tarzan” López, and starred in such camp movie classics as Tarzan in Guatemala and Return of the Avenging Hero. By acquiring and breeding exotic animals and developing specific acts, Alfonso and his younger brother Francisco (“Indio”) López contributed greatly to the evolution of the circus into its present-day form.

Rey Gitano is now in its third generation of López family owners/performers and retains much of its historic and traditional character. As such, it is a great example of the Latin American circo criollo -- a mix of native pageantry and traditional European circus lore.

Tarzán López explores the theme of family traditions: their origins and their transference from one generation to the next. Also, it meditates on Guatemala’s reality as seen through the eyes of the passing circus. Finally, it sets out to create a document of a way of life that year by year becomes more fragile and difficult to maintain. El Circo Rey Gitano continues to travel to the most remote regions of Guatemala, and to reach marginalized communities; it brings culture and entertainment to a wide range of audiences. Furthermore, it has done so over the past century of Guatemala’s history, even during the most turbulent years of the country’s civil war, crossing and uniting territories separated by violence.