Bolivian Film School’s Film Scene Paying Off

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A film school in Bolivia shows how a creative hub can become the start of something much bigger. The school is inspiring a new generation of young people to get into filmmaking. And one of its lecturers is already experiencing global success acting in an award-winning new Spanish film.

Bolivia’s economy has grown over the last decade, and the country is beginning to shed its long-standing reputation for grinding poverty and political instability. Public spending has risen, and more money has been put into programmes to reduce poverty. More students are entering higher education and the country recognizes an urgent need for greater awareness and understanding of modern technology.

Film and media production have been targeted as an important way to advance Bolivia’s social and economic development.

Veteran Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorge_Sanjin%C3%A9s) has been one of the most passionate exponents of using film to spread the stories and wisdom of Bolivia’s indigenous people. He believes their stories understand the need to balance the demands of humanity with preservation of the environment. Film, to him, is a way to liberate Bolivian society and address its pervasive problems of poverty, hunger and marginalization.

This chimes with rising global awareness of the importance of the creative economy in future development. No longer seen as a frippery, the creative economy is the “interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology in a contemporary world dominated by images, sounds, texts and symbols” (UNCTAD). It is seen as a way for emerging economies to leapfrog into high-growth areas in the world economy.

It’s a formula that has worked well in many other places. A successful art gallery fosters a scene and draws in audiences, buyers and new businesses. Soon, a creative economy comes alive and that means serious money. Both New York and London have shown how this can work. By 2005, New York City’s creative economy employed over 230,899 people in 24,481 businesses (Americans for the Arts).

Creative economies tend to create excitement and pride in the country; creative businesses like advertising and design make it much easier to sell products and connect with customers. It is hard to imagine the Apple computer brand (http://www.apple.com/) being as successful as it is without intelligent and engaging design.

Regeneration – of poor neighbourhoods, districts, even whole countries – is both a challenge and a key to transforming lives. There is a strong track record of turning to artists and creative people to re-imagine neighbourhoods or a country’s culture, restoring pride and vitality to places beaten down by life’s hardships.

In the Bolivian city of El Alto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Alto,_La_Paz), the Cine Alto film school at the Municipal Arts School of El Alto (http://cinealto.blogspot.com/2009/01/nueva-carrera-de-artes-cinematogrficas.html), offers students a free education in filmmaking. Lecturer and actor Juan Carlos Aduviri is one of the high-profile successes to come from the school since it opened in 2006.

A graduate of the school and a lecturer on screenwriting, he got a big career boost by acting in a major new, award-winning film and is nominated as Best Newcomer by Spain’s top film awards, the Goyas (http://www.academiadecine.com/home/index.php). The nomination is for his role in the Spanish film Even the Rain (http://www.tambienlalluvia.com/) – set in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, where protests a decade ago broke out over privatisation of water services. It stars well-known Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays a filmmaker set on making a movie about the Spanish conquest of the Americas. While making the film, the so-called “water wars” break out and the actor played by Aduviri must balance his film role with being a protest leader.

The protests against water privatisation in Cochabamba led to the election of Evo Morales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evo_Morales) as Bolivia’s president in December 2005.

Cine Alto is one of four film schools in Bolivia but the only one that does not charge students tuition. Cash is tight for the school, which is a simple place and runs on thin resources. The classrooms have bare walls and broken windows, but the school is serious about transforming the lives of young people. The curriculum emphasises a strong theoretical foundation in combination with technical and practical training.

“Conditions in Bolivia to make a film are challenging and in El Alto, it’s even more difficult,” Aduviri told the BBC.

“Life is hard here in El Alto, and this film school is trying to rescue this talent, and support these young people.”

A member of Bolivia’s indigenous people, the Aymara (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aymara_people), Aduviri grew up in El Alto, a city known for its strong pride and resilience. It is home to almost a million people, most of whom are Aymara.

He studied screenwriting and turned to teaching at the school after graduating. He is passionate about filmmaking as an alternative to negative influences in the community: he wanted the film school “to give a voice to all the talent that we’re losing to alcohol, drugs, prostitution, homelessness and gangs.”

One student, Edson Chambiborque, told the BBC: “”He has taught us to value the little that we have in this school, and never drop our heads despite all the difficulties we may have.”

Aduviri comes from a poor family but now makes a good salary by Bolivian standards: US $200 a month. (The average monthly wage in Bolivia is around US $90). He still lives with his mother in a poor neighbourhood. His father, a miner, died of lung disease.

He wants to become a director and screenwriter and dreams of his film career taking him to the Cannes Film Festival in France (http://www.festival-cannes.com/).

He will continue acting to raise the money to be able to finance his own films. With the money he has made from appearing in the Spanish film, he has bought a computer with film editing software and a television. He has a goal to watch two movies a day on his new television and keep learning.

Appearing in the film has catapulted his career to the next level: the phone is always ringing and the world’s media keep asking for interviews. It has come with trips to Europe to promote the film and receive awards. He also won the best actor award from the Festival de Cinema Europeen des Arcs (http://www.lesarcs-filmfest.com/2010/programme/). An impressive journey for somebody from a poor family.

When he saw his first movie he was inspired by the magic of filmmaking. He told the BBC: “It was showing Rambo. And that day I realised what I wanted to do. When I left the cinema, I said: I want to make films.”

Bolivian film has had to fight for attention with other Central and South American countries. Brazil, Argentina and Chile all have experienced global success. The country has a rich – but little-known – film history, with significant Bolivian filmmakers including Pedro Sambarino, Jorge Ruiz, Oscar Soria, Jorge Sanjines, Antonio Eguino, Paolo Agazzi, Rodrigo Bellott, Juan Carlos Valdivia, Adriana Montenegro, Marcos Loayza.

Bolivia is looking to the digital age to rectify its relative anonymity, and Cine Alto may be ground zero for a Bolivian film new wave.

Resources

1) European film festival in Bolivia, with screenings across the country. Website: http://www.cineeuropeobolivia.org/

2) Cine Alto on Facebook: Website: http://es-la.facebook.com/cine.alto

3) Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009: The summit is about the successful and emerging creative technologies and initiatives that are driving economic growth locally, nationally and internationally. Website: http://www.gcecs2009.com/

4) AltoTV: A non-profit television documentary-making project that has made small films on El Alto. Website: http://www.altotvgerman.blogspot.com/

5) The Public University of El Alto: Website: http://www.enlaupea.com/

6) Creative Economy Report 2008. An economic and statistical assessment of creative industries world-wide as well as an overview of how developing countries can benefit from trade in creative products and services, produced by UNCTAD and the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation in UNDP. Website: http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditc20082cer_en.pdf

7) A course on Bolivian filmmaking taught by award-winning filmmaker Ismael Saavedera. Website: http://www.sit.edu/studyabroad/sss_blv.cfm

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