This article contextualizes and characterizes production practices in political cinema in Bolivia and Peru between the 1960s and 1990s, reading them as a communitarian endeavor that included many more women than official history acknowledges. It also documents the work of two overshadowed filmmakers—the Bolivian Beatriz Palacios and the Peruvian María Barea—mainly in their roles as film producers and managers of small producing companies, but also as directors. In order to effectively incorporate women into Andean cinema history, I advocate for a nonhierarchical historiographical methodology and the academic consideration of personal relationships as one of the driving factors in artisanal political production cultures. A non-auteurist approach to unearthing Andean women filmmakers is central to this revisionist project that aims to shed light on an entire range of women's labor in collaborative film production, not only directorial work.
La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, August 2015. In the privacy of his home, Jorge Sanjinés, an acclaimed—although non-mainstream—Latin American filmmaker nearing his eighties, discusses his life partner and producer Beatriz Palacios, who died in 2003: “She helped me a lot. She gave me time to create peacefully. She managed all the problems.”1 After this statement, he remains thoughtfully silent. The question that animates this article, and my research more broadly, is how to account for the silence that follows these moments of recognition. How do we understand the historical and political contexts that virtually erased Palacios and other women like her whose labor was integral to the production of Andean oppositional cinema between the 1960s and the 1990s?
During my fieldwork, it became clear that women disappear in the transit from oral records to written histories, which is to say, in the passage from unofficial to official history. Furthermore, most of the published oral testimonies, such as the excellent work by Julianne Burton-Carvajal, are focused on male directors, whose points of view, although important, are partial and potentially misleading.2 Histories of directorial achievements also tend to erase the importance of subaltern members of the crew; as well, these histories can overlook the work women performed in noncreative roles or oversimplify the gendered power dynamics that complicated the collaborative project of Andean oppositional filmmaking.3 The realization of this subaltern expunction has made me prioritize the search for unwritten sources, resulting in many hours of conversations with above- and below-the-line members of the crews and their expanded support network, but also critics, historians, journalists, and activists. Finding the direct testimony of women who participated in these collaborative projects and expanding the boundaries of the archive are necessary interventions for a film history that interrogates women's work in Latin American film production.4 I have pursued both direct testimonies and personal files to demonstrate that women's work was central to the political achievements and functional viability of collaborative cinematic projects conducted in the Andes.
This article is a feminist critique of the historicization of Latin American political cinema. Taking a non-auteurist approach to unearthing Andean women filmmakers is central to this revisionist project that aims to shed light on an entire range of women's labor in film production, not only directorial work.5 Moreover, a non-individualistic approach to Andean collaborative cinema allows us to understand the production context in a more accurate way. Women participating in these productions did not claim a unique aesthetic or singular ideological status. Rather than validating their work in relation to their exceptionality or genius, they worked collectively to forward urgent political projects. This is not to say that they lacked strong personalities or points of view, nor that they were not gifted (most of them were enormously talented). Rather, their contributions were significant because their goal as co-creators was to enable the emancipatory processes unleashed by their films within specific social groups—principally the subaltern classes.
A non-auteurist methodology also helps to explain the decolonial practices of Andean political cinema, which are too commonly read from a Westernized point of view, a tendency that contradicts both the political aims of these collaborative projects and their praxis; it often has the undesirable consequence of turning films produced under Third Cinema precepts into second cinema fungible commodities (art house movies) for Western audiences.6 Conversely, the objective of this type of cinema was to offer all-encompassing processes of liberation through filmmaking, where the subaltern subjects (indigenous peasants, workers, miners, organized housewives, domestic servants, street children) were both participants and the desired audience. Within this context, urban middle-class filmmakers adopted the role of organic intellectuals, offering their cultural, technological, and (scarce) economic capital to their allies. And women contributed fundamentally to the political reach of oppositional cinema, from the first stages, such as investigation and fundraising, to the final phases, such as the evaluation of reception.
This article contextualizes the characteristics of production practices in oppositional filmmaking in Bolivia and Peru, reading them as communitarian endeavors that included many more women than official history acknowledges. It also documents the work of two overshadowed filmmakers, the Bolivian Beatriz Palacios and the Peruvian María Barea, focusing mainly on their roles as film producers and managers of small producing companies, and also on their work as directors. Finally, it advocates for a nonhierarchical historiographical methodology in order to effectively incorporate women and their collaborative production practices into Andean cinema history.
OPPOSITIONAL FILMMAKING IN THE ANDES, 1960s–1990s
The production of political films in Latin America is referred to by different labels, such as militant, revolutionary, third, oppositional, or political intervention cinema. I have chosen to use the term “oppositional filmmaking,” building on Julianne Burton-Carvajal's nomenclature, which highlights a focus on the emancipatory conditions of production and reception of this cinematic practice.7 Moreover, the term “oppositional” allows me to bridge the gap and encompass the two different historical periods (the 1960s and 1970s, and the 1980s and 1990s) and the two separate national contexts (Bolivian and Peruvian) that I address. Due to the transformation of political and economic conditions, the rhetorical strategies of the films were forced to change. Nevertheless, there were continuities in the filmmakers’ objectives, which are easily traceable through the persistence of modes of production, avenues of distribution, and use of political cinema across the decades and across the permeable Andean border.
The so-called “long 1960s,” a period of common epochal characteristics that extended into the mid-1970s, was characterized by a radical cinematographic militancy founded on the hope that revolutionary political change was within reach. This optimism was based on a series of successful anti-imperialist events that took place at a tri-continental level: the Cuban Revolution (1959), Algerian independence (1962), and the American defeat in Vietnam (1975). What happened instead of a global revolution, however, was a vicious counterrevolutionary attack on a continental level called Operation Condor, implemented in the 1970s. This plan consisted of a series of intelligence operations coordinated among South American dictatorial governments working in close collaboration with the US government and the CIA. The goal was to stop Latin American leftist insurgencies in any form, from legitimate governments such as that of Salvador Allende in Chile to guerrilla movements such as the Montoneros in Argentina or the Tupamaros in Uruguay.
Operation Condor resulted in widespread atrocities: tens of thousands of people tortured, killed, disappeared, and illegally imprisoned. As a result of state-sanctioned terrorism, different strata of society, especially younger generations who once dreamed of changing the economic, political, and social paradigm, became demoralized and demobilized. During the 1980s, as an immediate continuation of political repression, neoliberal economic policies were imposed continent-wide. The doctrine of the Washington Consensus subjugated the peoples of Latin America more efficiently than armies had in the previous decade. Consequently, the possibility of implementing an economic and political alternative to capitalism, seemingly promised by earlier, anti-imperialist successes, seemed to vanish.
Film production faced similar challenges. In the 1960s and 1970s, Latin American oppositional cinema searched for ways to weaponize cinema, but from the 1980s onward the revolution was a lost dream, and filmmaking became less partisan and more reflective. But throughout, filmmakers never abandoned their political and social orientation, and over this forty-year period, urban middle-class filmmakers continued to make films with and for the subaltern groups.
Notwithstanding the enormous political differences and the diverse developments in Bolivia's and Peru's film industries during this period, both nation-states share a common cultural Andean substratum that stems from their pre-Hispanic heritage and from their colonial past.8 For this reason, and recognizing that “Andean cinema” is not a well-established category, I am using the term “Andean oppositional filmmaking” to denominate the collaborative nature of filmmakers and their production practices. A distinct advantage of this conceptualization is that it not only acknowledges the shared physical and cultural landscape but also speaks to a transnational circuit of cinema practitioners and practices between Bolivia and Peru, including the pan-Andean ideas and feelings that nurtured these exchanges. This circulation is still in place and needs to be further researched, both historically and contemporarily.9
Probably the most programmatically pan-Andean collective, the Bolivian Ukamau (Aymara for “so it is”) group, began its journey in the long 1960s. They developed a groundbreaking type of film practice, self-defined as cine junto al pueblo (cinema with the people).10 Indigenous peasants and miners became the collective protagonists of the films, while the popular classes were the target audiences instead of the traditional demographic, the urban middle classes. This shift in audience, along with their desire to decolonize cinema, forced the filmmakers to change both film language and production culture. The different stages of Ukamau's filmic theory and practice show the necessary evolution of their cinematic methodology, which was forced to adapt to changing historical conditions. This transformation is clear in how Ukamau's rhetorical tone shifted over time, a process that can be traced in the film titles themselves: from the open militancy of the 1960s and 1970s (Blood of the Condor [Yawar Mallku, 1969], The Courage of the People [El coraje del pueblo, 1971], The Principal Enemy [El enemigo principal, 1974], Get Out of Here [Fuera de aquí, 1977]) to a more allegorical mode characteristic of the end of the 1980s and the 1990s (The Clandestine Nation [La nación clandestina, 1989], To Hear the Birds Singing [Para recibir el canto de los pájaros, 1995]).
The second groups of filmmakers that I am going to address here, the Peruvian Chaski (Quechua for “messenger”) and Warmi (Quechua for “woman”), began their journey in the 1980s. Although they shared with Ukamau the programmatic aim of giving voice to the voiceless, their rhetorical strategies could not rely on the militant style of the previous period. For instance, Ukamau's films of the 1970s do not have individual protagonists or stars. Instead, the narratives are driven collectively by the masses of peasants or miners (as a formal consequence, close-ups are avoided, takes are longer, and the angles wider in order to encompass the collective action). Conversely, in Chaski's films of the 1980s, Gregorio (1985) and Juliana (1989), and Warmi's films of the 1990s, Antuca (1992) and Daughters of War (Hijas de la Violencia, 1998), representing collective identity is still important, but the storytelling structure revolves around individual protagonists. Additionally, the overall tone, despite being socially critical, is not as overtly political. Oppositional filmmaking during this period, then, shared overlapping political concerns and production and distribution practices, but was marked by distinct aesthetics and styles.
ARTISANAL AND PRECARIOUS PRODUCTION MODE
Julianne Burton-Carvajal notes that in Latin American oppositional filmmaking, the mode of production emphasized “use value” versus “exchange value,” and its procedures integrated all levels of the creative process instead of compartmentalizing them into discrete areas. As for the means of production, these cinematic processes did not require large amounts of capital, expensive or complex infrastructure, equipment, studio sets, professional actors, or screenwriters. Moreover, the intended audience was not preeminently the urban middle class, but subaltern groups whose active participation was deliberately solicited.11 I would add to Burton Carvajal's description that, in this context, the lack of financial resources forced the whole system of production to be grounded in the mutual help guaranteed by a community of filmmakers and a wider support network.
The film projects were often carried out by tiny independent production enterprises with small crews of between three and twenty people. These outfits opportunistically took the legal form of a company, a cooperative, or a foundation depending on the legal frameworks that best favored their survival.12 As for the support of state institutions, some filmmakers could work successfully under the auspices of precarious public organisms such as the ICB (Cinematographic Bolivian Institute) or the SINAMOS (Peruvian National System for Social Mobilization). Coproductions with public or private foreign entities were also sought. For instance, the generous support provided by the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry) facilitated the postproduction of fundamental Andean movies such as Blood of the Condor (1969), I Am a Man (Runan Caycu, 1973), and Where the Condors Are Born (Kuntur Wachana, 1977). Since the 1980s, with the rise of international cooperation for development, European NGOs have become a frequent source of funding.
In these fluid and often precarious production contexts, the line between above- and below-the-line crew members was blurred. Jorge Sanjinés, founder of the Ukamau group, in addition to being the director of the films was also the driver and did any required physical tasks without hesitation, as did other renowned directors such as Luis Figueroa and Federico García Hurtado. Crew members were neither unionized nor had their wages regulated according to any official wage scale. In general, it was more common that they did not charge for their work or charged amounts that did not truly reflect the hours they devoted to the projects. Payments were made later if there were any profits. Payment to the indigenous peasants, however, was prioritized. Their presence was often indispensable although securing their cooperation was never easy, requiring extensive negotiation and, usually, guaranteed compensation. As for the crew, the working hours were endless, primarily because members of the team had to take care of not only filming but also the logistics of daily survival. They often worked in remote communities where local food markets were nonexistent, and where peasant communities who hosted them did not have a surplus to sell, or even if they did, might choose not to.
The persistent lack of money, equipment, and supplies (especially film stock) was a constant threat to almost every production. As a result, crew members needed to be highly committed to each project. Economic gain was not the objective. On the contrary, filmmakers often pawned, sold, or mortgaged their assets to finance projects for which there was little hope of recovering their investment. Additionally, they were often subject to political repression such as detention (as with Beatriz Palacios, Antonio Eguino, and Federico García Hurtado) or exile (Jorge Sanjinés, Beatriz Palacios, Mario Arrieta, and Alfonso Gumucio Dagron, among others).
A collaborative cinema was produced in this context not only because there was a political intention behind this labor structure, but also because it was the only possible way to make films. Without the total commitment and voluntary work of those involved at all levels, then, the films would not exist. However, it is also not possible to claim that a purely horizontal collaborative cinema was being implemented. Although these groups were intended to be emancipatory, or at least to create an emancipatory cinema, their structure still mirrored society at large, with charismatic leaders, internal hierarchies, and complex power relations within the crews that derived from broader social structures of colonial and patriarchal domination.
WOMEN's WORK IN ANDEAN OPPOSITIONAL CINEMA
Since Andean oppositional cinema productions were not part of a regulated system, it is not possible to develop closed categories of production labor, as can be done in more industrialized systems. What can be said is that some tasks were feminized (for instance production management, casting, continuity, marketing, and distribution), although these tasks could have been carried out equally well by men. In general, the lack of structures forced all participants in the production to multitask with flexibility. But even so, it is possible to establish patterns, and above all—and this is one of the objectives of this article—to start naming unacknowledged production tasks commonly performed by women that have hovered under the historiographic radar.
Rather than conceiving of crew members as operating in isolation, it is necessary to regard them as part of a broad mutual aid and solidarity network outside of any institutional context. The systems that facilitated film production were based on personal relationships of friendship or kinship. And within these networks, the heterosexual couple had a primary role that has so far been overlooked. In visualizing a map of the bonds of affinity, friendship, love, and sex that trace the foundations of Latin American oppositional cinema, the heterosexual couple can often be found at the center. Additionally, already complex familial, social, and national networks were further complicated by the advent of dictatorships that forced many filmmakers to go into exile. With these displacements, alliances and loving exchanges became transnational (and in some instances stretched thin or broken).
Personal relationships, regarded as a sensitive subject, have traditionally been considered only fit for gossip and are often overlooked in scholarly work on the history of Latin American film. However, in the context of its precarious mode of production, they cannot be a secondary consideration. Rather, they were the cornerstone of an artisanal film's feasibility. Perhaps in other modes of production with more stable industrial and financial structures, personal bonds of love, friendship, or kinship do not affect production in the same way. However, in the case of Latin American oppositional cinema, they often had a direct impact on production. Emotions such as companionship, enthusiasm, and generosity could turn an impossible film project into a great success. Conversely, jealousy, betrayal, or abuse could turn a utopian project into a painful human experience.13
As for the women who participated in the projects with their partners, it is commonly assumed that they performed auxiliary labor, offering the “natural” support that “every” wife should give to her husband in whatever walk of life. Consequently, the collaborative and creative work performed by these women, understood as a part of their domestic obligation, has been rendered invisible. The Quechua-language film Blood of the Condor—the best known and most successful Andean political film—is paradigmatic of this process of exclusion, and exemplifies the implications of marital contributions to Andean oppositional filmmaking.
Blood of the Condor is a docu-fiction film that denounces real historical events, namely the sterilization without consent of indigenous Bolivian women by members of the US Peace Corps. As a militant film, Blood of the Condor was tremendously effective; as a direct consequence of its exhibition, the Peace Corps was expelled from the country for twenty years. It was also very successful artistically, quickly becoming part of the canon of the New Latin American cinema. Blood of the Condor has entered official cinema history as the work of a brilliant auteur named Jorge Sanjinés. Yet in the testimonies of its production, including ones from Sanjinés himself, it is apparent that the tremendously challenging realization of the film was entirely collective and would have been impossible without the risky and enthusiastic contributions of all the participants. The production's collaborative nature was noted by Antonio Eguino, the cinematographer, who in his memoir described the Ukamau group as a “tribe.”14 Included in the crew who traveled to the filming location (the little hamlet of Kaata in the Kallawaya region) were at least three married couples and their children. Only the names of the male halves of these couples have entered history, although their wives appear in the credits. Their names are Consuelo Saavedra, Gladys de Rada, and Danielle Caillet.
Consuelo Saavedra was a Chilean artist who was married to the director, Jorge Sanjinés, and traveled to the shoot with their three children. She was also a dynamic catalyst within the group. Eguino, who knew Sanjinés from his childhood, attributes Sanjinés's early politicization to her influence.15 In Blood of the Condor she is credited as an assistant director, although according to Eguino her tasks far exceeded that role. She also took care of the food logistics in a place where there were neither roads nor a stable market nor suppliers of any kind; under such challenges, feeding each day a group of fifteen people, including small children, was a critical task.16
The wife of producer Ricardo Rada was also in Kaata. While named both in the credits and in Eguino's book as Gladys de Rada, her actual surname remains unknown.17 According to the credits, she worked as the production assistant, but she also acted as an on-set translator of Quechua. She and her husband were the only crew members who spoke the local language, translation skills that were crucial during filming in the Quechua-speaking region.
Danielle Caillet, Eguino's French-born wife, was the third woman who moved to Kaata, bringing with her their one-year-old son. Besides taking on the role of an American health worker in the film (reportedly because she looked like a gringa), she also maintained continuity and took still photos of the production. She would go on to become a well-known photographer, sculptor, filmmaker, and video maker. Her 1980 film Warmi (Woman) is a pioneering work of Bolivian feminist nonfiction, which portrays the diversity of women's life in the country. Later in the decade she theorized the need for a women's cinema in Bolivia in her article “La importancia de un cine llamado Potencial-Mujer” (For a Cinema Called Woman-Potential). In it she details a programmatic interest in teaching cinema techniques and transferring audiovisual technology to Aymara and Quechua peasants and working-class women. She also argues that these groups could use such knowledge and equipment to overcome their economic and gender-based exploitation, regarding cinema as a tool to enhance women's contribution to the country's development.18
It is worth noting that Eguino credits the social structure of the brotherhood or tribe for making the film, which highlights the communitarian aspect of the production. Oscar Soria had the original idea for the story and wrote the scenario, and Eguino was responsible for fundraising, mainly through crowdfunding among their acquaintances. However, Eguino also makes clear that the production was facilitated by the connections forged by the women on the crew; the friendship between Saavedra and the Chileans Verónica Cereceda and Gabriel Martínez took Ukamau to the Kallawaya region, which finally became the film location.19 Within this film “tribe,” all of the crew members in Kaata and La Paz contributed their labor, ingenuity, and creativity to the project, as Eguino observed:
The filming of Blood of the Condor was a complete experience. It had several virtues. The main thing was that we were a very united group with a single conviction: making the film. The group fulfilled the motto “one for all, all for one.” When we finished filming in Kaata, we did not have enough money to pay the people we had hired in the last scenes. Then Jorge [Sanjinés] spoke with the communards and said: “I am going to stay as a pledge until we get money to pay you.” The whole crew returned to La Paz to get the money that was missing. In La Paz, we started looking for money, and in the end, Danielle [Caillet] proposed: “We will pawn our jewels.” She, with the other women of the crew, placed in a bag their rings, necklaces, and earrings, and we took them to the pawnshop. With the obtained money, we “rescued” Jorge.20
Despite the communitarian ethos, it is also evident from Eguino's anecdote that the “tribal” leader was the charismatic Sanjinés, who offered to remain as collateral because he thought he was the group's most valuable asset, then was saved by the women in the group, who pawned their jewels to pay off the debt and reclaim him. In recognizing their role in rescuing Sanjinés, Eguino calls them “the women of the crew” for the first time in his narrative, finally acknowledging their contributions to the production. As cultural artifacts, Andean political films were the result of complex processes carried out by communities of workers and facilitated by extensive personal support networks. Any exclusively textual analysis of these movies that leads to the attribution of their authorship to a single individual, the director, commits an error of interpretation.
HUSBAND-DIRECTORS AND WIFE-PRODUCERS
Another social formation has proved to be a successful mode for filmmaking in challenging production contexts: a partnership between a female producer and a male director. In these cases, the roles often conform to a pattern in which the man is the artist and the woman is the executor. Although their workloads are similar, the distribution of power is unequal, and the social and cultural capital (awards, tributes, a place in history) resulting from the labor of both parties accrues solely to the male director.
This type of partnership is common in independent, artisanal modes of production. Often the woman offers to act as her partner's producer; in the following cases, the Bolivian Beatriz Palacios (Jorge Sanjinés's second wife) and the Peruvian María Barea were very young when they started to work with their respective partners.21 Since the beginning, they extended personal and emotional ties into work and political alliances. However, it cannot be ignored that both Sanjinés and Luis Figueroa, Barea's husband, were already recognized personalities in their countries, holding a social power that the young women lacked. In consequence, the overall position of Palacios and Barea in these labor relations, at least at the beginning, was one of subordination, although voluntarily assumed due to the envisioned possibility of fulfilling their political and artistic interests via a cinematic career.
Despite some clear differences, the “boss-secretary relationship” in the Hollywood studio era described by Erin Hill has many similarities with the Latin American husband-director/wife-producer relationship. In ascribing credit to the hidden labor of the studio secretary, Hill coined the concept “creative service” to describe a series of roles “cohering around their most essential shared function: serving creative work by subtracting all noncreative work from the process.” She further affirms that “workers in such roles aid the creative process by serving as a repository for all its unappealing tasks, details, and emotions.”22 The wife-producer met this same function in Andean oppositional cinema.
The reason why women like Palacios and Barea agreed to enact creative services without expecting any recognition can be attributed to many factors, although both had a strong sense of duty and loyalty to their political causes. In the case of Palacios, who had been a communist militant since adolescence, she was an ardent supporter of the anti-imperialist struggle and the liberation of the Bolivian people. She was also compensated at a personal and professional level by a position of authority in the Ukamau group. For her part, Barea felt a more general need to contribute to the transformation of Peruvian society by eliminating inequality, racism, classism, and machismo. She persistently rejected masculinized power structures, in part by founding and leading the women's group Warmi, dedicated to giving voice to subaltern Peruvian women. However, as we shall see, this empowerment was not accompanied by public recognition.
Beatriz Palacios (b. Oruro, Bolivia, ca. 1945, d. Havana, 2003) studied journalism in Cuba and lived and worked there for most of her youthful years.23 She met Sanjinés in Havana in 1973, where he was working on postproduction for The Principal Enemy at ICAIC. They fell in love and immediately mingled their labor and political agendas. Their main goal was to return to Bolivia and continue making films in their country. Hugo Banzer's dictatorship, however, made this desired return impossible until 1978. In the meantime, they decided to work in Ecuador, a country with a shared Andean culture, where they could make films with the indigenous peasants without literally risking their lives. Over a three-year period, from 1974 to 1977, they made Get Out of Here, a film that denounces the penetration of Western mining corporations in Andean territory under the guise of evangelic Christian groups. This was Palacios's first filmmaking experience; she started as the assistant producer and ended up being the head of production, cowriter, and coeditor.
The writer, filmmaker, and historian Alfonso Gumucio Dagron documents the challenges faced during the production of Get Out of Here in his book Diario Ecuatoriano. Cuaderno de Rodaje (Ecuadorian Diary: Filming Notebook).24 The book is a transcription of the diary he kept while on location in Ecuador during the first shoot for the film in 1975. In addition to the diary, the book's contents include interviews with members of the different crews compiled by the editors. In one of these, Erika Hanekamp (a German woman who participated in the second shoot and has remained in Quito up until today) describes Palacios as the driving force behind the production: “She was the first one to get up in the morning, and the last one to go to bed. She was involved in everything. She did everything. She was the organizer.”25
This drive defined Palacios's career and relationship with Sanjinés. During the almost thirty years of their relationship, Palacios took care of all the tasks that guaranteed the day-to-day running of the film productions, the office, and their home. She was also—as are the secretaries to the producers or the assistants to the directors in Hollywood—a filter between Sanjinés and the world. To reach him, you first had to gain Palacios's approval. But unlike a Hollywood secretary, she was also an executive who had significant power over the production of Sanjinés's films. He delegated much of the decision making to her out of convenience, but also absolute trust. It was a symbiotic relationship that benefited both partners: he remained in the ivory tower, abandoning it only when necessary, and she ran Ukamau with authority.26
Though there has not been consistent recognition of her contribution to Ukamau's project in the academic literature, in the day-to-day operations her significance was widely recognized in Bolivia and abroad. She became essential to Ukamau's production almost from the moment of her incorporation into the group in 1974. After returning to Bolivia in 1978, she codirected with Sanjinés the documentary Banners of Dawn (Las banderas del amanecer, 1983). Afterward she produced the remarkable The Clandestine Nation (La nación clandestina, 1989), which received the Best Film Award at San Sebastian Film Festival, followed by the To Hear the Birds Sing (Para recibir el canto de los pájaros, 1995) and The Children of the Last Garden (Los hijos del ultimo jardín, 2004).
Palacios suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and died suddenly in 2003. In the years before her death she had been working on a personal project called Land without Evil (Tierra sin mal), which had already been granted state funding. Based on a detailed weekly shooting schedule kept in the Ukamau Foundation's archive, the casting was completed, and the preproduction had been finished.27 But before the filming could begin—with Sanjinés ready to act as her assistant for the first time—she took ill with an outbreak of her chronic disease and had to postpone it. In the end, Sanjinés's film The Children of the Last Garden was made with funds that had been originally allocated to her project. For this film, Palacios again acted as a producer and also directed some of the most complicated scenes of the movie, which were shot in a direct cinema fashion that mixed the actors with real street mobilizations. Before the film was released, Palacios passed away unexpectedly while traveling to Cuba to receive medical treatment.
Palacios's influence on Andean oppositional cinema cannot be understated. Her commitment to weaponizing film as an instrument of communication and education helped radicalize Ukamau's scope, primarily in relation to disseminating the collective's work through noncommercial circuits. The work of the Ukamau group was centered on denouncing the causes of exploitation, exposing US imperialism, and revealing alliances between local oligarchies and the empire. To evaluate the impact of Ukamau films on their target audiences, she undertook systematic audience research work, a unique phenomenon in the New Latin American cinema, as far as I know. She was also an active member of different associations, including the Bolivian New Film and Video Movement and the New Latin American Cinema Foundation in Havana, and the representative in Bolivia of the International School of Film and Television of San Antonio de los Baños. During her life, and posthumously, she received awards for her work in Bolivia and Cuba. Although scarce, the reevaluation of Palacios's contributions to Bolivian cinema are ongoing. For example, in 2011, Sergio Estrada released the documentary Beatriz with the People (Beatriz junto al pueblo), composed of testimonies from her friends and acquaintances—filmmakers, cultural managers, union leaders.
Palacios's political commitments were established long before she met her husband, but her role as his partner-producer overshadowed the parameters of her influence on his work and on the wider project of “cinema with the people.” Like other women who have had to find ways to negotiate the relationship between public and private life, her partnership with Sanjinés united her life and her politics in an indissoluble way, but it came at great personal cost. Her friend, the filmmaker Liliana de la Quintana, notes that her intertwined political and work priorities prevented Palacios from taking care of herself the way she should have, something that other comrade filmmakers, such as Raquel Romero and Eduardo López Zavala, also highlight in their remembrances.28
Quintana underscores as well the fact that Palacios consciously opted not to have children, knowing that motherhood would occupy time and energy she needed for her militant cinema projects. As a political figure who faced exile or imprisonment, motherhood would have also made her more vulnerable as a target.29 This voluntary renunciation, which frequently arises in conversations about Palacios, especially with those who knew her, resonates as a powerful metaphor for the pyrrhic victory of cinematic success—for the ways that both everyday life and historical reputation are circumscribed by traditional gender roles and the difficult choices working women must contend with in order to balance public and private commitments. Palacios is perhaps an extreme example, but her life and work can be read as a pattern of the motivations, sacrifices, and most of all contributions of women to Andean and Latin American oppositional filmmaking in this period. Her career can also be understood in more complexity in relation to how it was both organized and overshadowed by the labor structure of the wife-producer/husband-director partnership.
The case of the Peruvian María Barea (b. Chancay, Peru, 1943) shares certain features with Palacios but is also substantially different.30 Like Palacios, Barea entered into film work through her relationship with an older man, the Peruvian filmmaker Luis Figueroa, a member of the École de Cuzco.31 Other founding members of this cinematic group were Eulogio Nishiyama, César Villanueva, and the brothers Manuel and Victor Chambi. These friends, the children of the indigenist cultural elite of Cusco, were pioneers in Andean artisanal cinema production. They began their filmmaking careers in the early 1950s with a series of remarkable short ethnographic documentaries, and in 1961 they released Kukuli (1961), the first feature film produced in the Quechua language.
Luis Figueroa and Manuel Chambi were based in Lima when Barea met them in 1971. She was a young widow and new mother (her son had been born after her husband's death). Her creative passion was theater, but soon after the beginning of her relationship with Figueroa, she started to collaborate on his cinematographic projects as assistant director and producer. The 1970s were Figueroa's most prolific years as a filmmaker, undoubtedly thanks to his personal and working association with Barea.32 They finished two feature films together, The Starving Dogs (Los perros hambrientos, 1977) and Festival of Blood (Yawar Fiesta, 1979), literary adaptations of works by Ciro Alegría and Jose María Arguedas respectively. Barea and Figueroa also worked on one documentary feature film, Chieraq'e: Ritual Battle (Chieraq'e. Batalla Ritual, 1975), and two short documentaries, The Kingdom of the Mochicas (El reino de los mochicas, 1974) and The Strapper (El cargador, 1974).
Barea's first experience in filmmaking was as a production assistant on the Ukamau project The Principal Enemy (El enemigo principal, 1974). Members of the Bolivian group (Sanjinés, Arrieta, Saavedra, Oscar Zambrano) carried out the production, which was shot in Peru in 1972. They worked in close collaboration with the aforementioned members of the Cusco School and other younger Peruvians such as Barea, Jorge Vignati, Fausto Espinoza, and Efraín Fuentes, and their experience constitutes a clear example of a transnational pan-Andean cinematic project. As another example of these transnational connections, Figueroa introduced Barea to Sanjinés in Lima and, according to her, the Bolivian offered her a job as a production assistant on the movie because he appreciated her qualities as a young, responsible, and enthusiastic person.
Indeed, Barea was organized, intelligent, and knowledgeable about their working environment. She was also an excellent mediator and eager to learn. Like Palacios's association with Sanjinés, during Barea's relationship with Figueroa she assumed all the “creative service” tasks associated with the producers of low-budget films: fundraising, preproduction, casting, shooting logistics, contact with laboratories abroad, management of (scarce) copies, distribution, sales. The overall organizational, clerical, and communications tasks fell on her shoulders. Moreover, she took responsibility for what were traditionally considered “purely creative” tasks. According to Barea, Figueroa was very talented, but he was a dreamer, a puer aeternus. It was her job to work with him until his ideas crystallized into realizable material for making films. Although she received no credit, she participated in writing the scripts for The Starving Dogs and Festival of Blood, and after their separation in 1980, he never finished another major film project. Conversely, their separation was the start of a new career path for Barea. In 1980 she directed her first film, Women of El Planeta (Mujeres de El Planeta, 1982), a documentary about a women's organization in a slum of Lima and its leader, Rosa Dueñas. The film showcases the political activities and cultural practices of women of excluded social groups; its testimonial filming style, which includes reenactments, directly elicits the lives of these marginalized women. Barea's short documentary was part of a global project called As Women See It, a series commissioned by the German producer Pierre Hoffman, and it won an award at the Leipzig film festival.
Barea's next film was Miss Universe in Peru (Miss Universo en el Perú, 1982), the first project undertaken by the Chaski group. Chaski was a film collective founded in 1982 by Barea, Alejandro Legaspi, Fernando Espinosa (Barea's partner at the time), Stephan Kaspar, and Fernando Barreto. Although a founding member, Barea left this group after three years and two movies due to irreconcilable differences regarding project management and the allocation of power within the group she helped organize. Her reasons for abandoning the group have not yet been heard, and the scant historical record on the Chaski group maintains a narrative about the collective developed by the two founders who remained in the group and kept its name, Legaspi and Kaspar. According to this dominant discourse, one of the main goals of the group was “to avoid replicating hierarchical labor structures such as those that exist in mainstream film production. The collective aims at a horizontal and collaborative workflow between the members of the group, as well as the group and its film subjects.”33 Yet Barea's experience in Chaski represents an opposite reality, one in which the ideals of equitable workflow practices and an internal production democracy were not upheld by the male members of the group.
The case of the collective's first film, Miss Universe in Peru, illustrates how contradictions between political rhetoric and organizational structures emerged during production. Barea's original idea for the film involved comparing two ideologically opposed events that were to take place simultaneously in Lima in July 1982: the Miss Universe contest and the 6th National Congress of the Peruvian Confederation of Peasants (CCP). She proposed the idea to her Chaski colleagues, who were interested and encouraged her to write the script. Funding was secured thanks to Barea's reputation as director of Women of El Planeta, which had been successful abroad. At that time, she was the only member of the group with directing experience. But when the time came to edit the film, something unexpected happened. In her words:
At the time of the editing, they decided “democratically” that I was not going to enter the editing room. Alejandro [Legaspi] and Fernando [Espinosa] appointed themselves for the task. Macho stuff. I should have been in on the editing, because the idea was mine and I had planned everything. In Chaski, I understood what is Machismo-Leninismo.34
Barea's play on words, replacing “Marxism” with “machismo,” was a common joke among women in leftist groups, political parties, unions, and in this case film groups that mocked familiar patterns of patriarchal behavior exhibited by their otherwise radical compañeros. After being blocked from editing her own film, and during the period she remained in Chaski, she was forced to revert to a more subservient part in the group's hierarchy. She was effectively relegated to the role of creative assistant, pushed into the more typically “feminine” labor of artisanal film producer.
As the producer of the subsequent Chaski movie, Gregorio (1984), Barea was in charge of casting, which she remembers as particularly challenging because the film's subject was street children and nonprofessional actors would perform most of the roles. For the central role they needed a slum boy from Lima who spoke Quechua, but many children had learned not to admit their fluency in the indigenous language to avoid racism. Barea took responsibility for this difficult task, which required a lot of intuition, capacity for mediation, and emotional labor, and which typifies the work women often perform in collaborative enterprises. According to Erin Hill, casting is a feminized type of labor for various reasons: the clerical-organizational components of the work, the emotional aspects attributed to women in an essentialist way (instinct, emotional intelligence, and intuition versus reason, intellect, and logic), and the vital importance of communication skills. Basically, a casting director must show proficiency in emotional labor and service.35 In this role, Barea spent months visiting schools on the outskirts of Lima until she found the right protagonist. Even so, and in spite of her responsibilities, the final decisions about casting were not hers. Barea also remembers with displeasure other casting decisions she opposed, for instance when the male members of the group decided that the role of Gregorio's mother should be performed by a beautiful actress with sex appeal. For her, it was an unfortunate commercial and patriarchal concession; however, her voice was not heard, and in the end, the canonically pretty Vetzy Pérez Palma was chosen.
After the success of Gregorio, thanks to the box office revenues and the sales of the film, the Chaski group grew very quickly into a production company with dozens of employees. This overambitious tack was criticized by Barea, who saw it as unsustainable, a critique that proved to be true not too many years later. Moreover, as she explained me in an interview, for her and her family's stability and well-being, she decided to split up with Fernando Espinosa. And because disagreements regarding the management model and personal issues were always intertwined, her work situation became likewise untenable, and she abandoned the Chaski group in 1985.
In 1989 Barea founded the Warmi group with Amelia (Micha) Torres and Marilú Pérez Goicoechea, both of whom quit Chaski for reasons they described as burnout. Warmi was the first collaborative group of women filmmakers in Peru, and beginning in the early 1990s they developed new cinematic projects alongside the organization of Peru's domestic workers.36 They made the video documentary Because I Wanted to Study (Porque quería estudiar, 1990) and the docu-fiction film Antuca (1992), a feature shot in 35mm. Antuca should have premiered in 1992, but that same year, Decree no. 19,327 for the Promotion of the Cinematographic Industry was abolished. Consequently, the Peruvian government would no longer guarantee the exhibition of all national films, and Antuca never enjoyed theatrical circulation. In 1999 Warmi finished their last major project, Daughters of the War (Hijas de la violencia), featuring members of girl gangs in Ayacucho, about the devastating consequences of the internal conflict between Shining Path and the Peruvian army in the lives of the children of the city.
Examining the biography and filmography of María Barea, inextricably linked as she is to the history of collective film practices, allows us to understand the parameters of Peruvian oppositional cinema. Barea was a pivotal figure during this period, involved in most of the developments that characterize the oppositional mode of cinematic production (Sanjinés in Peru, Luis Figueroa, Chaski, Warmi). But today her contributions are practically forgotten despite the remarkable collaborative film projects that she developed with different groups of subaltern women (organized housewives, domestic workers, street gang girls). Lacking the symbolic or cultural capital that accrued to her male collaborators such as Figueroa, Legaspi, Kaspar, and Vignati—who are, beyond dispute, worthy members of the Peruvian cinematic canon—Barea has ended up a hidden face of Andean oppositional cinema. Like so many other women working in film, her work is long overdue for critical and historical reevaluation. But women's stories do not conform to established patterns, frequently lacking as they do appealing straightforward narrative arcs of artistic or political success. On the contrary, and much more often, their stories provide evidence of the constraints imposed by preexistent social and cultural power structures and point to the complexity, perhaps even the impossibility, of perfect filmic collaborative endeavors.
ACKNOWLEDGING WOMEN, HISTORICIZING COMPLEXITY IN ANDEAN OPPOSITIONAL PRODUCTION PRACTICES
Beyond Beatriz Palacios and María Barea, many other women working in the production cultures of Andean oppositional cinema remain to be considered. The need to render women's labor visible seems clear and straightforward, yet the task remains tricky because even after unearthing one overshadowed filmmaker, that new history will inevitably point to many other women whose work remains hidden behind the wall of gendered production practices and official histories. In the case of Palacios, she had numerous assistants working with her in different roles. Consequently, to thoroughly and coherently assess Ukamau's emancipatory scope, it would be necessary to pay attention to different versions of the group's history as expressed by her collaborators, some of whom can indeed be traced and named, such as Consuelo Lozano and Patricia Suárez.
To unpack the politics and poetics of Andean oppositional cinema, it is necessary to delve into the complexities and power structures of established practices and processes, which requires a committed focus on gender issues. To that end, we should lose the fear of telling stories of failed or imperfect experiences. Pure successes are scarce in collaborative political cinema, so to focus on solo, auteurist-driven, celebratory narratives ignores the complexity and the conflict of oppositional practice. Such idealized narratives erase the richness of collaborative cinema and the lessons of its films and history. Historiographic rigor is necessary to emancipate New Latin American cinema studies from the deforming lens of auteurism, a too-common approach and an artifact of critical and historical gender bias. For example, the usual attribution of Ukamau's films to Jorge Sanjinés is not done explicitly, but by default, omission, generalization. The actual cinematographic practice of Ukamau is ignored, the different groups responsible for the filmmaking are not acknowledged, and instead the umbrella brand “Sanjinés” overshadows complex and contested production processes.
Scholarly work must adapt to the realities it describes. Committing to a rhizomatic model of cinema history writing is needed especially to address nonhierarchical practices such as Andean oppositional cinema. I accept my share of responsibility in this situation. I also once narrated the story of Ukamau in a way that highlighted Sanjinés as auteur.37 But just as these filmmakers, including the directors, went through challenging processes of inner decolonization, it is now the turn of scholars and critics to make a similar journey. I would suggest a commitment to fieldwork and investment in new approaches to production cultures, like the use of methodologies that help foreground forms of creative labor hitherto undervalued and unexamined, such as care and service. It is crucial to realize that without emotional labor and creative service, low-budget artisanal films—the majority of films produced in countries without an industrial structure—would not be possible. Women's creativity, resourcefulness, and care underpin these alternative production models. Acknowledging the centrality of their forms of labor will invigorate the field of Latin American film studies with new, more complex, and more accurate historical accounts.