In this article, I show the potential of feminist film archiving to unsettle dominant paradigms in Peruvian film historiography. I describe my work as a curator of Rebeldes y Valientes (1913–2019) (Rebels and Braves, 1913–2019), the first digital archive that sheds light on the participation of women filmmakers in the history of Peruvian cinema. I argue that Rebels and Braves has challenged the overrepresentation of male filmmakers constructed by Peruvian film historiography, even as it was constrained in its capacity to redress the structural conditions that erase and delegitimize women’s contributions to film. This article also makes the case for a disruptive archive that visualizes a feminist approach to curation and film history.

I am a trained filmmaker and member of the film community in Lima, as well as the curator of Rebels and Braves (1913–2019), the first digital archive and exhibition to shed light on the participation of women in the history of Peruvian cinema.1 Although this project was constrained in its capacity to redress the structural conditions that erase and delegitimize women’s contributions to film, I argue that Rebels and Braves challenged the overrepresentation of male filmmakers constructed by Peruvian film historiography.2 By using autoethnography as a research and writing method, I reflect critically on my own research process and curatorial work.3 This article makes the case for a disruptive, feminist approach to curation and film history while acknowledging the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and honoring the dialogic presence and contributions of the curatorial team.

The loss of the majority of films produced during the first eighty years of the twentieth century is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle in the study of the history of Peruvian cinema. Most of the films from the silent and early sound eras have disappeared, while a significant part of the production of the 1970s and ’80s has either been destroyed or survives in extremely fragile condition or inaccessible formats. Due to limited budgets and lack of specialized staff, infrastructure, or inter-institutional coordination, Peruvian archives have been able to preserve and recover only a fraction of these surviving films.4

Faced with this situation, scholars and researchers have had to develop radically imaginative techniques to construct Peruvian film history. The most comprehensive historiographic works, particularly those including the silent and early sound eras, use newspaper clippings, marketing materials, posters, chance discoveries at flea markets or abandoned cinemas and projection rooms, and the filmmakers’ personal testimonies to reconstruct film plots, production processes, and biographies of filmmakers.5

These contributions have been crucial in navigating loss and establishing a national film canon, but they have overlooked the historical participation of women. To begin with, they used a critical paradigm that valorized a certain type of film (such as narrative features and genre films) and analytical methods (such as formal examination of mise-en-scène) that rendered the director as the sole auteur of the cinematographic image.6 This auteurist approach, a clear influence of French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, failed to notice the intersectional dynamics that had historically hindered women’s participation behind the camera, particularly in directing. Moreover, it minimized other film genres and formats in which female directors had actively participated, while the work of women in nondirectorial positions (particularly those related to beauty, logistics, and care tasks) was reduced to undervalued and seemingly insignificant contributions. As a result, Peruvian cinema history has been limited to a certain type of films, and the male director became the most significant historical subject.

This approach had been quite influential in the education and training of many generations of filmmakers from the 1970s onward. During my time as a communications student at the University of Lima (1997–2001), the topic of “women in the history of Peruvian cinema” was rarely discussed. The logic behind this omission was circular: since the feature film director was the only subject worthy of scholarly attention, and only a handful of women had directed a handful of feature films up to that point (e.g., Nora de Izcue, Marianne Eyde, Heddy Honigmann, María Barea), there was not much value in analyzing their work, or that of other women in nondirectorial positions.

In October 2019, the director of the Lima Film Festival, Marco Muhletaler, invited me to curate an exhibition on women in Peruvian cinema. It would take place in the gallery of the Cultural Center of the Pontifical Catholic University during the Lima Film Festival 2020. Since this would be my first experience in a gallery space, I would work alongside Ana Osorio, the director of the gallery and also an extraordinary artist and curator.

Marco’s invitation came as no surprise. Female participation behind the camera had increased at the turn of the twenty-first century, when a new generation of women directors emerged. Films made by Claudia Llosa, Mary Jiménez, Marité Ugás, Mariana Rondón, Rosario García Montero, Melina León, and Rossana Díaz Costa, to name just a few, began gaining recognition on the national and international circuit. Media hailed the female directors of the “new Peruvian cinema,” and new festivals and networks began to promote films made by women and sexual dissidents.

I had just started brainstorming the overall concept of the exhibit when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Peru. The government imposed a strict lockdown and mandatory social immobilization for all nonessential activities. The Lima Film Festival had to move online, and the exhibition was postponed until the following year. I now had a full year to work on the project, but also new difficulties. All bookstores, libraries, and archives were closed, and the only way to get information was by phone and the internet. Moreover, I was forced to divide my attention between my curatorial work and taking care of my mother and grandmother, two vulnerable relatives who lived with me.

For months, I explored all the scholarship related to the history of Peruvian cinema I could get my hands on. There was, to my delight, an exciting corpus of scholarship produced after my university graduation, which involved a more comprehensive, intersectional approach to films’ production processes and distribution contexts, and to the filmmakers involved. For instance, Isabel Seguí had analyzed the importance of female producers, festival programmers, cultural managers, and documentary directors from the seventies onward, as well as many nonhierarchical, collaborative film projects led by women.7 Claudia Arteaga had studied the pedagogical experience of the Amazonian Film School (Escuela de Cine Amazónico), where women held a crucial role not only as producers but also as students and cultural animators.8 Fabiola Reyna had investigated the gender disparity in directorial positions in films produced during the first two decades of the twenty-first century, and the difficulties faced by LGBTQI+ filmmakers working behind the camera.9

All these scholars were unsettling the epistemological framework that had enabled women’s historical erasure for decades, while addressing the machismo they had endured. They even questioned the paradigm of auteurism by looking at roles beyond directing. As a result, their version of Peruvian cinema history was substantively different than the one I had learned as a student.

A key moment in my research process came when I came across Cuando el cine era una fiesta (When the cinema was a party, 2013) by Violeta Nuñez and Nelson García. This book contained the crew lists of all the films made between 1972 and 1992 under Peru’s 19327 Film Law.10 Some of the featured names were quite familiar—Pilar Roca, Martha Méndez, Giovanna Pollarolo; others were a total revelation—María Esther Palant, Victoria Chicón, Bertha Saldaña. While only a few directors were featured, the majority of the women listed had worked as producers, production designers, documentary directors, camera operators, makeup and wardrobe artists, director’s assistants, editors, and script supervisors.

A second inspiring moment was the discovery of Women Film Pioneers Project (WFPP), a digital archive that showcases career profiles, essays, and multimedia posts of women around the world working behind the cameras during the silent film era.11 The entry “Peru” featured the names, photos, and biographies of three pioneers I had never heard of: writers María Isabel Sánchez Concha and Angela Ramos, and director Stephania Socha.

Following the tradition of using radically imaginative techniques to reconstruct history, it occurred to me that I could use the crew lists found in film history books to identify the women working behind the camera. Moreover, I could use those crew lists to create a database to calculate women’s participation according to film genre, job title, and historical period. Using WFPP as a reference, I envisioned a website that would contain general texts and individual filmmaker entries.

I pitched my idea to Ana, and together we came up with the website’s general design. The written narrative would deal with the influence of the social representations of gender in Peruvian film practice, while the visual narrative would be focused not on films, but on filmmakers. Moreover, it would not be limited to directors, but to the totality of women working in all behind-the-camera positions, from the least known to the most visible, from 1913 to 1992.12 Curating disruption meant making this totality visible.

We devoted the next months to creating the database and producing the website. Thanks to a research grant from the Ministry of Culture, I was able to hire an assistant, Elsa Salinas, with whom I designed the Excel spreadsheet that would contain the names of all the films produced between 1899 and 1992, as well as the names and gender of all crew members. Throughout the southern summer months of 2021—which coincided with COVID-19’s third wave—Elsa fed the database with information obtained from films, history books, and festival catalogs. By the end of February, she came up with an astonishing number: nearly four hundred women had worked as editors, makeup artists, gaffers, documentary and short directors, producers, script supervisors, and assistants between 1899 and 1992.

Due to our limited resources and time constraints, it was not possible to create an online archive with the biographies of four hundred women, so Ana asked me to come up with a selection criterion. When examining the database, I found that most of the women had worked on only one film, and only a fraction were department heads on more than one production.13 I suggested to Ana that we use productivity as a criterion and only include those who had worked on more than one film. This reduced the four hundred women to 120—still a significant number, but more manageable. Ana agreed and we got to work.

The creation of each entry involved a lengthy process of contact and communication. We asked participants to write their own biographies in whatever style they wanted, confirm their filmographies, and share any visual material that would show them at work. The fear of COVID contagion was very strong, so we used taxis and delivery services to pick up their materials and send them back as quickly as possible. Most of the filmmakers cooperated with alacrity and enthusiasm, but obtaining material from deceased filmmakers proved to be quite a challenge. The photograph and autobiography of Stephania Socha, the first woman to direct a feature film in Peru, required the cooperation of Polish film scholars in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as two film archives in Warsaw that were closed due to the pandemic (see fig. 1).

Figure 1.

Stefania Socha, Warsaw, Poland. Photograph courtesy of Zbigniew Raszweski Documentation Center, Warsaw, Poland. Retouched digitally by Xabi Gracia.

Figure 1.

Stefania Socha, Warsaw, Poland. Photograph courtesy of Zbigniew Raszweski Documentation Center, Warsaw, Poland. Retouched digitally by Xabi Gracia.

Close modal

We were in the middle of the process when, unexpectedly, my grandmother tested positive for COVID. She was ninety-two years old and in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. I immediately put the project aside and devoted all my energy to getting her oxygen, nurses, and medication. After a month-long battle, my grandmother was able to overcome the virus. I rested for a few days and went back to work.

During my absence, Ana and Elsa had already secured the participation of almost fifty filmmakers. As expected, most of them did not have a copy of their films, but they had preserved valuable, sometimes unpublished, material that included behind-the-scenes photographs, production documents, and storyboards (see fig. 2). Ana had also solved the problem of how to make the totality visible by creating, with her partner and artist Xabi Gracia, a rolling credits list (like the one that appears at the end of most movies) featuring the names of all four hundred women.

Figure 2.

Marcela Robles as script supervisor, holding the slate during the shoot of Mirage, 1972. Uyuhaya desert, Ica, Peru. Photograph courtesy of Marcela Robles.

Figure 2.

Marcela Robles as script supervisor, holding the slate during the shoot of Mirage, 1972. Uyuhaya desert, Ica, Peru. Photograph courtesy of Marcela Robles.

Close modal

I was amazed. Our radically imaginative techniques had borne fruit. A feminist film history had begun to emerge.

The website/exhibit/archive went online in August 2021. It featured four pages of historical analysis; fifty-three personal entries with photos, biographies, and filmographies; and the rolling credits video. Since all indoor social gatherings were still banned, we couldn’t get personal feedback from any of the featured filmmakers, but the response on social media was overwhelmingly positive. As women began to spread the word about the site, some of the filmmakers we hadn’t been able to contact began to show up. They wanted to be included in the archive, be recognized, and be seen.

In August 2021, I moved to the United States to begin my doctoral studies. The world was slowly coming back to life as vaccines had begun to mitigate the severity of the virus. In November, Marco and I touched base. He wanted to turn Rebels and Braves into an in-person exhibition and to update the online archive for the next edition of the Lima Film Festival. This time, however, we had to include female filmmakers from 1992 onward.

I accepted his proposal but was initially worried about the magnitude of the task. The cheapening of technology, the expansion of professional film training, and the rise of private investment and government film incentives had significantly increased Peruvian film production. We would have to trace not dozens but hundreds of films and filmmakers. We were a team of three with very little time. I shared my concerns with Ana, but she was confident about our radically imaginative techniques. We had been able to create a digital archive collaboratively, remotely, amid a deadly pandemic. We are going to find a way to make this new totality visible, Ana said. And, as always, she was right.

In January 2022, Elsa started feeding the database with the names of films produced between 1993 to 2019, and the men and women who had worked on them, using books, websites, and other sources.14 By March, she had identified nearly seven hundred new individuals. In total, she calculated nearly 1,100 women working across 120 years of history.

Since we couldn’t create an archive with seven hundred new entries, I had to come up with new criteria to narrow the pool. I looked at the database again and realized that the increase in production had allowed most women to start working regularly in feature-length films, so I decided to use professionalization as a filter. The contemporary section of the archive would feature women who had worked in at least one feature or medium-length film (i.e., films longer than twenty minutes), or had been department heads for at least two feature or medium-length films.15

The in-person exhibition opened its doors in late July 2022. It contained updated texts, portraits, books, news clippings, cameras, storyboards, posters, four light boxes featuring the pictures of 150 film department heads, and a rolling-credits video containing 1,100 names.16 It also featured fifty-three film and documentary trailers, film excerpts from the 1970s and ’80s directed by women, and twenty-five shorts by female directors whose features had screened at the Lima Film Festival (see figs. 3, 4). The digital archive went online a couple of weeks later, featuring the individual entries of 150 department and area heads.

Figure 3.

Main entrance of the Rebels and Braves exhibition. Lima, August 2022. Photograph courtesy of the PUCP Cultural Center.

Figure 3.

Main entrance of the Rebels and Braves exhibition. Lima, August 2022. Photograph courtesy of the PUCP Cultural Center.

Close modal
Figure 4.

A digital composition of the Rebeldes y Valientes digital archive, featuring more than 150 women from 1972 to 2019. Each picture is linked to an individual entry, containing pictures, biography, and filmography. Lima, July 2022. https://centroculturalpucp.com/galeriaencasa/790-rebeldes/.

Figure 4.

A digital composition of the Rebeldes y Valientes digital archive, featuring more than 150 women from 1972 to 2019. Each picture is linked to an individual entry, containing pictures, biography, and filmography. Lima, July 2022. https://centroculturalpucp.com/galeriaencasa/790-rebeldes/.

Close modal

The exhibition became a significant venue for the Peruvian film community during the 2022 Lima Film Festival. After two years of pandemic lockdown, it provided a much-needed space for physical interaction, but also a ground for public recognition and intergenerational encounter. Many of the filmmakers uploaded selfies standing next to their gallery pictures, using the spontaneous hashtag #SoyRebeldeyValiente (#IAmRebelAndBrave). For women working in nondirectorial positions, the exhibition was particularly significant as it was the first time their contributions were publicly acknowledged. I organized the talk Rebeldes y Valientes 1913–2019: Mujeres en la historia del cine peruano (Rebels and Braves 1913–2019: Women in the history of Peruvian cinema), in which filmmakers from the 1970s and ’80s were able to meet, talk, and discuss their craft and life experiences with their twenty-first-century counterparts. My friend and editor Fabiola Sialer summed up the excitement of all these events beautifully: Rebels and Braves had unearthed a hidden genealogy, a community of ancestors. Now, we had a history. We were no longer alone.

I write these lines months after the closing of the exhibition, and I can see some of the limits of my curatorial decisions. By focusing on the most prolific filmmakers, we overlooked stories of exclusion: women who worked on only one film, who were never able to move up the filmmaking ladder, who left the sets never to return. By focusing on success stories, we may not have addressed the structural and intersectional mechanisms that still alienate female and nonbinary filmmakers from positions of prestige and power. By focusing on feature or medium-length films, we ignored the contributions of those working in nonhegemonic forms, such as short and community films. By relying on crew lists, we overlooked those whose work is often uncredited. By highlighting productivity and professionalization, the archive ended up reproducing some of the blind spots I was trying to disrupt and expose.

However, the positive response from the women’s film community encourages me to recognize the disruptive contribution of Rebels and Braves, the first digital archive to shed light on the participation of women filmmakers in the history of Peruvian cinema. I now consider it part of the growing number of feminist projects that are pushing the boundaries of film curation and archiving and continuing to destabilize the hegemony of the male director-filmmaker subject in cinema history. And being part of such an exciting company is nothing but extraordinary.

1.

Gabriela Yepes-Rossel, “Rebeldes y Valientes (1913–2019),” Rebeldes y Valientes (1913–2019), 2022, https://centroculturalpucp.com/galeriaencasa/rebeldes-y-valientes/.

2.

I use women to indicate a community in permanent transformation, “a set of collective histories and identities” that is not limited to a specific gender identity. Joan Scott, “El Género: Una categoría útil para el análisis histórico,” in El Género: Una construcción cultural de la diferencia sexual, ed. Marta Lamas (PUEG, 1996), 82.

3.

Carolyn Ellis, Stacy Holman Jones, and Tony E. Adams, “Introduction: Coming to Know Autoethnography as More Than a Method,” in Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis (New York: Routledge, 2013), 17–48.

4.

Katherine Díaz Cervantes, “Preservar el Patrimonio Audiovisual para fortalecer nuestra identidad nacional” (XII Congreso Latinoamericano de Investigadores de la Comunicación, Lima, Perú: ALAIC-PUCP, 2014), 121; Christian Wiener, “Estudio y propuesta sobre conservacion y difusión del material cinematográfico y audiovisual peruano” (Lima, Peru: Ministerio de Cultura, October 2015); Katherine Díaz Cervantes, “El Archivo Audiovisual Nacional: Espacio de memoria e identidad.” (Tesis de Bachiller, Lima, PUCP, 2014). About the need for a National Film Cinematheque, see Monica Delgado, “Cuando el patrimonio fílmico, casi, se va a la basura,” Desistfilm (blog), October 1, 2019; Mónica Delgado, “Y la cinemateca peruana, ¿para cuándo?, por Mónica Delgado,” Wayka.pe (blog), October 27, 2020; Katherine Subirana, “¿Por qué el Perú no tiene cinemateca?,” El Comercio, May 15, 2022, sec. El Dominical.

5.

R. Bedoya, Cien años del cine en el Perú: Una historia critica (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Universidad de Lima, 1995); Ricardo Bedoya, Un cine reencontrado: Diccionario ilustrado de películas peruanas (Lima: Fondo de Desarrollo Editorial de la Universidad de Lima, 1997); G. Carbone, El cine en el Perú: 1897–1950: Testimonios (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Universidad de Lima, 1991); G. Carbone, El cine en el Perú: 1950–1972: Testimonios (Lima: Fondo Editorial Universidad de Lima, 1993); Ricardo Bedoya, El cine silente en el Perú (1895–1994) (Lima: Fondo de Desarrollo Editorial de la Universidad de Lima, 2016); G. Carbone, El cine en el Perú: El cortometraje, 1972–1992. (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Universidad de Lima, 2007).

6.

J. Middents, Writing National Cinema: Film Journals and Film Culture in Peru (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2009); I. León Frías and Federico De Cárdenas, eds., Hablemos de Cine (antología), vol. 1 (Lima: Fondo Editorial PUCP, 2017); I. León Frías and Federico De Cárdenas, eds., Hablemos de Cine (antología), vol. 2 (Lima: Fondo Editorial PUCP, 2018).

7.

Isabel Seguí, “Haciendo estallar la burbuja cinematográfica Limeña: Mujeres peruanas en el cine contemporáneo de no ficción,” in Cine peruano de inicios del siglo XXI: Dinamismo e incertidumbre (Lima: Universidad de Lima, Fondo Editorial, 2021), 353–73; Isabel Seguí, “Auteurism, Machismo-Leninismo, and Other Issues,” Feminist Media Histories 4, no. 1 (2018): 11–36.

8.

Claudia A. Arteaga, “‘Hacia Un Cine Por La Vida’: El activismo de La Escuela de Cine Amazónico,” in Cine peruano de inicios del siglo XXI: Dinamismo e incertidumbre (Lima: Universidad de Lima, Fondo Editorial, 2021).

9.

Fabiola Reyna, La cinta ancha: Brechas de género en el cine peruano (Lima: Editorial Gafas Moradas, 2021).

10.

Nelson García Miranda, Cuando el cine era una fiesta: La producción de la Ley No. 19327 (Lima, 2013).

11.

“Women Film Pioneers Project,” accessed December 20, 2022.

12.

Although film production started in 1899, the first film featuring the name of a woman in its credits was shot in 1913. On the other hand, 1992 was the year of the repeal of Law #19327, after which film production nearly halted for almost ten years. We decided that the exhibition would only cover the first eighty years of Peruvian film history since film production had dramatically increased after that, and we did not have time or resources to trace them all.

13.

Department heads and area heads refer to the people in charge of specific areas during preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution.

14.

Our sources were J. Tsang, Confesiones fílmicas (Lima: Solar Central, 2010); Mauricio Godoy, 180o gira mi cámara: Lo autobiográfico en el documental peruano (Lima: Departamento Académico de Comunicaciones PUCP, 2013); Emilio Bustamante and Jaime Luna Victoria, Las miradas múltiples: El cine regional peruano, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Lima: Universidad de Lima, Fondo Editorial, 2017); Cinencuentro, “Cine peruano, del 2000 al 2021,” Cinencuentro (blog). The decision to stop the exhibition in 2019 responded to the enforcement of a new cinema law and the disruption of film production caused by the pandemic.

15.

According to the #26370 Film Law, the duration of a short film was twenty minutes or less.

16.

The “rolling credits” video can be found at https://centroculturalpucp.com/galeriaencasa/790-rebeldes/.