Bolivian Film School’s Film Scene Paying Off

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


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 ( 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 ( 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 (,_La_Paz), the Cine Alto film school at the Municipal Arts School of El Alto (, 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 ( The nomination is for his role in the Spanish film Even the Rain ( – 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 ( 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 (, 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 (

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 ( 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.

Published: March 2011


1) European film festival in Bolivia, with screenings across the country. Website:

2) Cine Alto on Facebook: Website:

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:

4) AltoTV: A non-profit television documentary-making project that has made small films on El Alto. Website:

5) The Public University of El Alto: Website:

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:

7) A course on Bolivian filmmaking taught by award-winning filmmaker Ismael Saavedera. Website:

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Angolan Film Grabs Attention at Film Festival

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The power of the creative economy to transform lives, livelihoods – and perceptions – should never be underestimated. Creativity can transform the image of places and situations often seen in a negative light. A film from Angola is shining a light on the country’s music scene and showing the vitality of the nation in the wake of a long-running civil war.

Angola’s vicious civil war ran from 1975 to 2002 ( and the country is still recovering from the economic and social damage wreaked by the conflict.

The film Death Metal Angola ( was a hit of the recent Dubai International Film Festival (, an annual film showcase running every December in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Middle East.

Death Metal Angola illustrates the power of film storytelling to draw attention to a country and spark interest in its culture and challenges.

The film focuses on the hidden world of heavy metal music (of which death metal is a sub-genre) ( in Angola – but it was not supposed to be about heavy metal music at all.

The story starts with American director Jeremy Xido ( Originally asked to do a film on immigration, Xido happened upon a railway line in Angola being built by Chinese workers. The railway line was being built in the town of Huambo ( in central Angola.

“There’s only one cafe in Huambo where you can get a decent cup of coffee,” he told the UAE’s The National news website. “Everyone interested in coffee is there: expats, military guys, Lebanese businessmen, people from all over the place.”

Hanging out in the café, he met a young man, Wilker Flores, who said he was a musician.

“He said he played death metal, and I just thought: ‘I have to hear this.’”

Flores’ partner, Sonia Ferreira, runs an orphanage and Wilker invited Xido to come hear him play.

“It was in this really poor neighbourhood with no electricity, and there’s Wilker with an amplifier and guitar and stolen electricity from this wire. We lit him with the headlights from an SUV (sport utility vehicle) and he proceeded to play this impromptu death metal concert in the middle of an orphanage with kids running around. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.


Xido then discovered that Ferreira and Flores were organizing the country’s first heavy metal music concert. While they were planning the concert, Xido was inspired to switch to making the film Death Metal Angola.

The documentary took about six weeks to film. Filming took place around Huambu, Benguela and Angola’s booming capital, Luanda. It is a mix of interviews with musicians, including some from the death metal and thrash metal scenes.

The origins of this music scene in Angola reaches back to the country’s former colonial ruler, Portugal, a country where heavy metal rock music has a strong fan base.

Xido found the love for metal music was a by-product of the civil war years. “During the war, a lot of the young guys – if they had the opportunity – would go to Portugal to study to get away from armed service, and they were often exposed to contemporary rock.”

There are local links, too. “Wilker says that rock is actually African in its roots, and says that a lot of the rhythms you’ll find in the countryside are the rhythms you’ll find in death metal.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with looking back at the war and the sort of unfilled promises of post-war,” said Xido, who adds that the lyrics have very political messages and those involved are highly intellectual.

“A lot of these guys are working in banks or doing IT. There’s a young guy who is considered to have the best metal growl. He wanted to come to Dubai, but is studying electronics and has exams.”

Filmmaking is a vibrant part of the global creative economy. According to a 2011 UIS (UNESCO Institute for Statistics) survey, two countries in the global South lead the world in filmmaking. India remains the world’s leading film producer, and Nigeria, with its prolific home video market, continues to hold second place ahead of the United States.

According to the Creative Economy Report 2010, the creative economy is “A new development paradigm” linking the economy and culture, embracing economic, cultural, technological and social aspects of development at both the macro and micro levels.

“Central to the new paradigm is the fact that creativity, knowledge and access to information are increasingly recognized as powerful engines driving economic growth and promoting development in a globalizing world,” the report says.

And as for Xido, making the film has opened his ears to heavy metal music, which he says was not what he listened to growing up.

“Because of these guys I started listening to Pantera and Sepultura and I really got into it. Metal on headphones in New York is fantastic. I love the way they like it in Angola, where it’s a huge expression of joy.”

But what about the other film, the one about immigration and the railway? “It’s still in production,” Xido said.

Published: February 2013


1) UNESCO Institute for Statistics: A treasure trove of data and analysis on the impact of culture. Website:

2) How to Make a Movie: Tips on movie-making in 23 steps with pictures. Website:

3) How to Make a Video: The 3-step process of making a video. Website:

4) Coming soon … how to make the perfect movie trailer: If you want to get your movie noticed, you need an eye-catching trailer. Just follow these simple rules. Website:

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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Riverwood: Kenyan Super-fast, Super-cheap Filmmaking

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The African film-making success story of Nigeria’s Nollywood has been joined by another fast-rising star: Kenya’s Riverwood. Both are beneficiaries of the digital revolution in filmmaking over the last decade, and both are using low-cost digital filmmaking and editing to tell local stories — in the process making money and creating thousands of jobs.

The power of creative industries to create jobs and wealth has been a focus of UNESCO, through its Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity. UNESCO has been in the forefront in helping African countries re-shape their policies to take cultural industries into consideration. The promotion of cultural industries also has been incorporated into the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

What is particularly attractive about this phenomenon for the poor in the South is its rough-and-ready approach to filmmaking: combining low-cost digital cameras and film editing software on personal computers, with small budgets and fast turn-around times. Films are made on location using local people. These factors make getting into filmmaking accessible and within reach of more people.

Riverwood is named after River Road, a bustling creative and business hub in Nairobi. Riverwood operates at a furious pace, with 20 to 30 films made every week. It adds up to 1,000 films a year selling 500,000 copies at 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.60) a piece: 1 billion shillings (US $13 million) in the past two years.

The whole industry is totally self-sufficient, and is following the well-trodden path laid down by Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

One of Kenya’s woman directors is leading the renaissance in filmmaking. “Movies are very important because I think they are the most important art in Kenya – in Africa,” said Wanjiru Kinyanjui in the film, “Riverwood, the Blooming of a Film Industry,” by the World Intellectual Property Organization ( “Basically, because Africans have an oral tradition, and a visual one, there is a huge market for local films.”

Riverwood films share a common characteristic of on-the-spot sets and a resourceful and cheap approach.

“They are shot in two, three days and edited in a week,” she continued. “They are selling because people can identify with them. The films being in Riverwood are basically the lives of people, reflecting the Kenyan way of life and entertaining Kenyans. “

And it is a new form of employment for many people:  “When I am making a movie, I need people: you employ very many people. And you also employ yourself. It is a real way of getting rid of poverty. Because all this talent, which is untapped, could be working.”

And as Riverwood rising star director John E. Maina puts it: “Hollywood is the model for any society that wants to develop.”

While still in its infancy compared to Nigeria’s Nollywood, Riverwood is already pioneering ways to protect the creative rights of filmmakers and build a financially-sustainable industry. Inspired by Hollywood’s ownership of creative material, Kenyan filmmakers have come up with some ingenious solutions. Each production company has a rubber stamp and signs on the sleeve of the DVD (digital video disc) – even if it is 1,000 copies.

If a director finds a pirated copy, and even if pirates have forged the rubber stamp, the signature will look like a forgery.

“It is based on a business model,” said director John E. Maina. ”It is commercial. So it is self-sustaining. This is how Bollywood is growing, this is how Nollywood is growing, this is how Hollywood developed.”

As pioneers in copyright protection, Riverwood directors strongly believe they are an important part of the country’s development.

“When you pirate a product, and the resources are not channelled back to the person who created that product, he is losing out on creating a new product for you tomorrow,” said Maina. “So you are the loser: tomorrow you will not have another product.

“Riverwood, Nollywood, Hollywood, are the model for any society that wants to develop. No society will develop without an audiovisual industry. And I think the way to protect an audiovisual industry is through strong copyright laws,” he said.

“If you go to most of the cafes and the pubs in Kenya, people only turn to TV at 7 o’clock, watch the news, after the news is over, they tell the management to put for them the local DVDs from Riverwood. Because they see themselves, they identify with those images. They don’t identify with the foreign American films, the soaps from South America.<

“The audiovisual industry is a mirror. If you don’t have a mirror to see yourself, you don’t know who you are. If you don’t have that mirror to see yourself, you are lost.”

Published: November 2008


  • The global charity Camfed (dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and empowerment of women) has projects to teach women filmmaking skills. Website:
  • Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Television de Ouagadoogou 2009: Africa’s biggest film festival. Website:
  • Naijarules: Billing itself as the “largest online community of lovers and critics of Nollywood”, an excellent way to connect with all the players in the business.Website:
  • A film by the World Intellectual Property Organization about the Riverwood phenomenon and an introduction to its up-and-coming directors. Website:


Cited in The Liverpool Companion to World Science Fiction Film by Sonja Fritzsche (2014).

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New Cuban Film Seeks to Revive Sector

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, the country’s film sector has largely survived on the largesse of the state. The switch to Communism as the guiding economic model of the country after the revolution led, at first, to generous support to filmmakers. The government ranked cinema ahead of television seeing both cinema and television as the two most important forms of artistic expression in the country. But as state funding has dwindled in recent years, adventurous independent filmmakers have tried to keep the Cuban film tradition going using other sources.

Prior to the revolution, Cuban cinema had been dominated by American and Mexican companies that used Cuba as an exotic backdrop for their productions and dominated the distribution of film in the country.

In the 17 years after the 1959 revolution, generous funding for filmmaking in Cuba produced 74 full-length films and 600 documentary shorts (Julianne Burton: Revolutionary Cuban Cinema). Soon Cuba had established a reputation for making its own, interesting, high-quality films. These range from “Memories of Underdevelopment” ( released in 1968, with its innovative narrative technique, to Academy Award-nominated “Strawberry and Chocolate” in 1993 and 2006’s “Tomorrow” (

But funding for Cuban film has been dropping since the ending of generous state supports with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cuba had received extensive subsidies from the Soviet Union and enjoyed preferential trading privileges.

But a new Cuban film is grabbing fistfuls of international accolades and shows it is possible to make films with a combination of foreign investment and state support.

The zombie horror-comedy “Juan of the Dead” ( has raised more than a few eyebrows but it is also showing a more commercial instinct among Cuban filmmakers and points the way to greater diversity in Cuba’s film sector.

The film’s poster declares: “50 years after the Cuban revolution a new one is about to start.” The film’s website is a colourful feast of images from the film and uses slick graphic design. It has previews, background resources and online clips for viewers to sample.

Calling itself a “zombie comedy”, the film was written and directed by Alejandro Brugués and produced by Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera and Claudia Calviño.

The plot revolves around Juan, a 40-year-old man who has spent most of his life doing nothing. He and his lazy pal Lazaro witness people starting to attack each other. Mistaking this for another stage in Cuba’s revolution, the pair at first believe the government media when it says the incidents are provoked by dissidents paid by the U.S. government. But it begins to dawn on the two men they are surrounded by zombies. Taking a Cuban approach to the problem, Juan decides to get rid of the zombies while making some money at it.

“Cubans have basically three ways of dealing with problems: they try to make a business out of it, they get used to it and keep going with their lives; or they throw themselves to the sea to run away from the island,” Brugués says on the movie’s website. “‘Juan’ gave me the opportunity to make things really difficult for Cubans, filling the country with zombies, which is in a way what we have become after all these years, but also gave me a leading character that could take a different option, that could stand and say ‘I’m not going to allow this, this is my country, I love it and will stay to defend it’ … after trying to make a business out of it and keep going with his life, of course.”

The film has received enthusiastic praise from international film festivals and audiences, and its producers are hoping it will give a boost to Cuban cinema.

Released in 2011 as a joint Spanish/Cuban co-production, “Juan of the Dead” was filmed on location in Cuba’s capital, Havana. The country’s first feature length horror film in half a century, its title is a play on George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead”, which also inspired the successful 2004 British comedy “Shaun of the Dead”.

It cost US $2.7 million, and the funds were raised from Spanish investors and the Cuban Institute on Cinematographic Industry and Arts (ICAIC) (

Brugués was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1976 and graduated from the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba.

He built up his expertise in the Cuban film industry as a scriptwriter for several Cuban films and is one of the partners at the Cuban indie film production company Producciones La 5ta Avenida (

His first feature film was “Personal Belongings”, which received worldwide distribution.

“I have been a follower of the zombie movies since I was a little kid (zombie movies have followers, not fans),” Brugués said. “The idea of ‘Juan’ simply came from watching the reality around me. That reality is Cuba, so one day inevitably, I was asking myself if we were so different from film zombies. Besides that, Cuba is a country that has been preparing itself for a confrontation with the United States during the last 50 years. So, what if instead of that, have to confront zombies?”

Brugués sees a coming together of independent filmmakers and state-funded filmmakers in the future: “At the moment there are two trends, films produced by Cuba’s state production company and films made outside of that,” he told the BBC.

“There needs to be a balance but I think the two will eventually merge. When this happens I think this will produce the best Cuban cinema.”


1) UNCTAD Global Database on the Creative Economy. Website:;


2) Creative Economy Report 2010: Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option. Website:

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