Art & Unrest in the Andes: Bolivia's Indigenous Filmmakers Explore Race and Identity Issues with a Frankness That Has Forced These Debates into the National Dialogue

Article excerpt

As Bolivia's political struggles intensify, the country's indigenous filmmaking--which first made an impact in the 1960s--has been invigorated anew. It is currently producing some of the most exciting and innovative work in all of Latin America, as filmmakers fervently resist the otherwise-dominant commercial norms of the region's conspicuously Caucasian-flavored, Spanish-language film and television programming. They have dared to explore race and identity issues with a confrontational frankness that has forced these debates to the surface and center of the national dialogue. Additionally, they've become a most vibrant chronicle and critique of globalization-related and U.S.-specific involvement in the Andes, from the ground up.


The Quechua and Aymara people, concentrated in the states of Potosi and La Paz, respectively, comprise Bolivia's largest pueblos indigenas; their languages flourishes with literally millions of speakers each, sharing "official" status with Spanish. And yet, the void of mass media and educational materials produced in the mother tongues of its 60-plus percent majority is gaping. This void, however, is being ambitiously filled by a vanguard of visionary collectives from Aymara, Quechua, also Guarani and the country's 33 other pueblos, fomenting a new kind of revolution in Latin America--not with guns but through harnessing the newly accessible audio-visual production means of the digital age to give both voice and face to Bolivia's long-silenced indigenous majority. Additionally, they could directly counter--or at the very least, balance--the tide of foreign-produced, "anthropological" documentaries which have attempted to present or dissect Bolivia's pueblos indigenas, often without regard or respect for indigenous community protocols and cultural/intellectual property rights.

The seeds were sown as far back as the late 1960s, with the rise to prominence of Jorge Sanjines, director of the groundbreaking Quechua-language production Yawar Mallku (Blood of the Condor, 1969), starring Reynaldo Yujra--the first certifiable Andean cinema idol (he also directs and produces). The film's decidedly anti-imperialist bent shone through in its portrayal of Peace Corps workers, dramatizing an alleged Uncle Sam-initiated program to sterilize indigenous women without consent; it helped bring about the Corps' expulsion and decades-long ban from Bolivia.

The efforts and output of indigenous producers and directors first achieved a national level of synchronization in 1996 under the country's (indigenous--not government--founded) National Plan for Audiovisual Communication. Pivotal organizations such as CAIB (Indigenous Audiovisual Coordinator of Bolivia) founded by Jesus Tapia, CEFREC (Cinematography Education and Production Center) founded by Ivan Sanjines (son of Jorge Sanjines), and CLACPI (Latin American Film and Video Council of the Indigenous Peoples) carried the torch by providing professional and aspiring indigenous film and video makers with education, training and practice, as well as distribution services for their finished works--including providing battery-powered video projectors to communities lacking electricity.


"It's especially important to note the collective nature of this movement," explains Amalia Cordova, Latin American coordinator for the Film and Video Center at the National Museum of the American Indian. "Each project involves an entire community, with members taking on a variety of audiovisual production responsibilities; sometimes doing the lighting, sometimes the camera work, other times directing or script writing--there's no one individual with sole authorship or creative control." Key works among the 100-plus produced thus far under the auspices of CEFREC and CAIB include: 1998's award-winning Qati Qati (Whispers of Death), La Nacion Clandestina (The Clandestine Nation) in 1989 and last year's Aymaranakan Sarawinakapa (Traditional Aymara Democracy). …