A conversation between Amalia Córdova (writing from Piscataway territory), David Hernández Palmar (Wayuu territory) and Francisco Huichaqueo (Wallmapu territory)
Translated by Mauricio Rivera
The following is a conversation about curation of indigenous cinema and about indigenous curation in spaces never before used for this purpose. It involves Amalia Córdova from the Piscataway territory (Washington, D.C.), David Hernández Palmar from the Wayuu territory of La Guajira (Maracaibo) and Francisco Huichaqueo from Wallmapu (Concepcion).
In February 2013, a retrospective screening of indigenous cinema titled “NATIVe: a journey into indigenous cinema” was presented at the Berlinale. It was organised by New Zealander curator Maryanne Redpath, who worked with a team of advisers, and was conceived as a bi-annual commitment to highlight indigenous cinema from all over the world. In this first edition, the festival presented a list of twenty-four films, including feature-length and short films, from Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand.
In 2015, NATIVe focused on Latin America. Therefore, six advisers from this region were invited to work with Redpath. Their role was to recommend films to be showcased during the festival’s second edition. This panel included David Hernández Palmar and Amalia Córdova.
Amalia Córdova: It was the first time we were asked to suggest films for a top European festival. For us, that meant prestige, more visibility and the possibility to explore uncharted territories for experimental films: for works which are hybrid in nature and propelled by indigenous communities from Latin America. We carefully compiled a selection of films with historical significance, most of them made by indigenous authors. We also chose pioneering works, which we believe took the debate about important topics, relevant to the indigenous struggle, to new heights; both because of their political stance and their aesthetic achievements.
To our surprise, only one or two of the works we recommended made it to the final program that Redpath curated. We were very surprised to see titles (not made by indigenous directors) like The Fighting Cholitas (2006) and Madeinusa (2006), which are quite distant to the more politically-committed documentaries we had recommended. Films that are more closely related to what Barclay called the Fourth Cinema. Furthermore, one of our colleagues, who is close to the Video Indigena family, wrote to us to express his discontent after seeing the selection: “it’s sad to see our partner’s display of amnesia regarding our work…”.
We considered withdrawing from the festival. Apart from the ambivalence we felt about specific works included in the program, we felt a collective concern, and a degree of responsibility, due to our participation in the process that led to this program. However, we understood that a festival is more than just its program, and that, in league with other advisors, we could act as an influence on this platform. Also, that we could encourage a wider debate, with more texture, in every projection. So we decided to attend. Furthermore, in the end, we sat down with the curator and exposed our thoughts on the matter, together with our colleague Vincent Carelli from Brazil.
From experiences like this, and across great physical distances, we organised multiple dialogues about curation within the environment of indigenous cinema. Especially in international and intercultural spaces. We focused on the question: how do we understand curation in an indigenous context?
With Francisco, we have been debating for a while questions like: how to understand the role of the curator from an indigenous point of view? And: how to translate indigenous languages?
I remember an image evoked by Seneca scholar Michelle Raheja at a conference about indigenous cinema in Canada in 2005, where she pictured the academic exercise of breaking down texts and images as an offering. In the case of curation, thus, it should be interpreted as the configuration of content and spaces, in the same way as someone displays an offering on an altar: a tribute to those who are present, the visible and the invisible, both with evident and non-evident meanings. To ask, to invoke, to beg, to cure, to heal.
Francisco Huichaqueo: I thought about it for a long while and came up with the word mapudungun azkunvn, which means: ‘to arrange’, ‘to tidy up’ (or also could be translated as: ‘to direct’, ‘to write down’ or to ‘place something facing somewhere’). To me, the curator is someone who gives order with wisdom and spirituality.
David Hernández Palmar: What we consider good cinema is not necessarily shown in the international run of festivals, at least not in those we have attended. It goes through a more political and spiritual path. Our curation is not one that enforces the power of selection and the unction of the specialist. It has to do with the fact that each film is meant to cure us, to pay tribute to the processes we use to spread our film rights and the communication between indigenous peoples.
On the other hand, indigenous cinema is the political depiction of diversity, as it allows the peoples of the world to, through their cinematography, state who they are and what it means to be indigenous. The films made by the peoples of the Basque Country, Chechnya, Japan, Pakistan, Ireland, Iran, India, Africa, among others, are acknowledged in the call outs for the Muestra Internacional de Cine Indígena de Venezuela (MICIV) and in other screenings and festivals. They are making the effort to freely determine their identity and defend their lands and languages through their audiovisual works; in the same fashion as we do in Abya Yala (the American continent). The MICIV is one of the many platforms of indigenous diffusion that constitute the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas (CLACPI).
AC: It is a space of power, which leads us to the action of gathering voices and generating a conversation between them. To create spaces for respectful and plural dialogue. It starts by recognising and respecting where we stand: to recognise a colonial and dominant context, which we confront by acknowledging the original peoples from each territory where we establish ourselves, doing so through a diverse range of proposals. Not from a position of unicity, but often from a collective and collaborative stance, from a deeper temporality (that comes from an ancestral originality) and which is conceptually circular (one that is infinite and inclusive).
To be curators allows us to rearrange. To contribute allows us to re-think, to dismantle, to decolonise. I see it as a space of mediation, a linkage of worlds. A constant translation of methodologies, logics, values, for diverse audiences, often in emerging and intercultural contexts.
DHP: I believe narrative quality is part of the peoples’ heritage. Of their imaginaries. I defend what director Miguel Littín said in Caracas, during the Encuentro Latinoamericano de Documentalistas de America Latina y el Caribe: “the aesthetic of Latin America is inconclusive and exacerbated.” This is why I think there is a coincidence, when the great ‘commissars’ of European cinema establish niches where to channel good indigenous cinema and, thanks to this, show off in their roles as curators and managers.
This is not wrong, because we are actually benefited by this acknowledgment; I mean, we are being taken into account for our managing and convening capacities. To be included in this platform, which has already been agreed upon, frees us from all the social taxes we must pay as Latin Americans and as indigenous. It is indigenous management what allows many curators, programmers and distributors to receive concessions when they negotiate compensation rights with films that are within their first year of release. This is how they reach our spaces. That surprises other managers who would like the honour of running the premiere. For example, at the MICIV, we have showcased films that later had a world premiere at Cannes and the Berlinale.
What doesn’t seem to be right is how those in charge of the national and international funds, which have been created to promote indigenous cinema, are not making the effort to endorse works that are in progress within the indigenous communities. Instead, they choose between those that already are included in international festivals like Toronto, Cannes, Berlin, Venice, San Sebastian, Telluride, Sundance, among others. These are filmmakers and films that not necessarily represent the indigenous movement. They are, however, a cinematographic expression with indigenous elements, even in terms of the narrative.
AC: I agree. To me, indigenous cinema is both a moment and it is in movement. It is not defined by just one corpus, theme or film genre. But it has been a struggle: to become an influence on the spaces of cinema curation in Abya Yala, as well as in other international spaces with a larger visibility.
Francisco, you teach, produce your own films and work as curator at film festivals and in museums. How is it to organise a Mapuche exhibition in spaces that are not traditionally Mapuche?
FH: My process involves working through revelation. Out of the Pewma (illumination). A large percentage of my work is driven by an instinct: a Mapuche cultural experience that represents the kind of revelation that, in the Western world, would be experienced in a dream. But our Pewma is not the same as the Western dream. This doesn’t mean I don’t handle data from the tangible culture.
I began to curate in 2016, when I was called to organise an exhibition with ‘archeological objects’, as they called them, from the collection of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, and at the Museo de las Artes Visuales (MAVI). I was surprised to receive the invitation from an institution like this, to curate this project. I had inner conflicts, because I was working with a history of recent pain. Some of those objects possibly arrived to the museum after being plundered and expropriated: either during the Pacification of Araucanía or because, driven by poverty, the Mapuche had to sell them. I was conflicted because of all this history behind them. But they insisted in calling me to work on this project. I believe this was because their methods are no longer working, they are too static and soulless. The public doesn’t want to see them. They are not interested. It doesn’t reach them.
I had never worked with this kind of objects. I believe my artistic and filmmaking background comes from somewhere else, so I had no idea how to work with them. But I kept questioning myself: why not? So I told the people at the museum they should ask those who know the most. The elders. People with wisdom, who are more closely connected to the Iof, to the Mapuche countryside. Hence, I approached Juana Paillalef, a great representative of the Mapuche culture, director of the Ruka Kimvn Taiñ Volil (which translates to something like ‘House of Wisdom’ or ‘House of the Roots’) and it’s also known as the Mapuche Museum. It is located in Cañente, in the Mapuche territory. I told her this story, what I was going through, and after a long and beautiful conversation, filled with learning and plenty of advice, Juana Paillalef told me to take the job. To take it as a spiritual mission and to work with a Machi (shaman) during the process. Then, I returned to Santiago and presented my idea: I told them I would take this exhibiting mission, but I would do so under the Mapuche time, and under the conditions I needed to feel comfortable.
This is when the conflicts with the other world, the dominant culture, began, because in the Mapuche culture, we often wait for the revelation of a dream before we agree on important things. Juana Paillalef kept insisting that I worked with spirituality and with a Machi. This is how she did it when she rearranged the museum Ruka Kimvn Taiñ Volil.
Thence, I went to the MAVI to talk to the given authorities and told them I accepted the job, but that I was going to take it as a mission. They asked me what I was planning to do and I told them that I was going to wait: the image had to arrive, in part, through a Pewma dream. That sparked the first conflict, because they were not used to working with a person like me. They work with professionals from the area, people who had already mounted indigenous exhibitions in many museums around the world. Therefore, there was an initial rejection. The museum’s major authority, Ana María Yaconi, asked me: “why do we need to do as you say Francisco?” I answered: “for love, madam director. So the Chilean people and the Mapuche world can finally have a loving dialogue and no more separation.” Then, Ana María, said: “Let’s do what Francisco asks.” Thus, I retreated and waited for the dream.
Later, I felt that something was happening inside of me. That there was a connection, a hinge or rather a door that was opening. I felt it because in the Mapuche spiritual world there are physical manifestations in which you know something is coming. That you are going to have a dream. Then the dream’s moment arrived, and I saw what I saw, all those elements (the Mapuche objects) suspended in the air. I saw the ancient jars floating in a great, closed space, like a museum wing at night. Inside the metawe (jars) I saw moving images in black and white. I saw friends from the countryside. My spirit was inside those jars. I saw how, in that place’s ceiling, an enormous tunnel of light was opening and the objects were leaving through that light. As the hours went by, I felt that this light was the return of our things, which were going to be touched by a Mapuche hand after many years; I felt a change of state, a change of vibration.
A short time went by after that. I went back to the museum and told them about my dream. I drew it for them and told them: “this is the image, this is what I want us to do.” I explained in detail everything I saw in the dream. And that was done. They called an expert in museum curation, to take care of the technical details and see how viable it was to put all the objects in suspension. We also called the conservation crew, who came to help us out.
That was the first step. It was hard. There was a cultural conflict, but things were done in the way I asked.
Then, I remembered that Juana Paillalef also told me to work with a Machi, a spiritual leader, so I contacted the Machi Silvia Calfuman, Blue Condor, and asked her to come with me to the depository of Mapuche objects at the Museo Precolombino. The objects were stored in drawers and conservation vaults. I talked to the Machi, explained her about this world, which she didn’t know. She asked me why the objects were stored in a concrete building. I told her that it was to preserve them.
She, then, accepted the idea, so I went with the Machi to cast a prayer on all the objects that were to be shown at the exhibition. We asked for most of the objects to be placed on top of a silverwork table; the metate, all the things, all the instruments, ceremonial garments, the kultrún (ceremonial drum). Then, the Machi said: “let’s begin the prayer.” She asked me to play a pifilka (Mapuche flute) in a yeyupin (dance) that we made under the museum, in the basement. The conservator told me: “you can’t play that pifilka.” I asked: “why not?” “You can’t,” he said, “because you can contaminate it.” Then, the Machi played the kultrún, and said: “Play it, lamien (brother). Play that pifilka, because it is ours.” I obeyed the Machi and played. It had been a long time since the last time that pifilka made a sound, and after many years of enclosure, it sung once again.
That sparked another conflict. A new clash of worlds, and the entire place became tense. But then, after the prayer, everything began to work out well. We made a purrun, a yeyipun, in a circle, surrounding the objects. It was very, very beautiful. And the conservation people, who are good people, professionals, understood the situation. They had never seen Mapuche people so close to the objects they had always stored in the museum’s vaults. This also speaks of the separation, the conflict between Chile and the Mapuche world. The fact that we are somehow mixed-blood, but culturally we are separated by ignorance. Because of this, there was another conflict.
And, well, the Machi had the last word. She went to the museum, saw the objects, played her kultrún, made the yeyipun for all the objects, and we left. She had to wait for the dream to come and approve if this mission/exhibition would go through or not. And so we waited. I had to tell the museum’s authorities, once again, that we had to wait for the Machi’s dream. Hers was the last word, not mine.
AC: That means to enter into the Mapuche’s timeline and their spiritual consensus, in order to drive the exhibition. From then on, you have been called by other places, right?
FH: They’ve called me from the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos of Santiago to construct tales out of the indigenous memories from the period between 1973-1990. The curator wanted to send me to record statements on video, from different cultures on a national level. I noticed she didn’t know much about our realities and that she didn’t know who I was. She didn’t know any active member of the Mapuche or of any other culture. I gave her some reading material. The museum only consulted a few persons from the peoples, and didn’t hire anyone to be a part of the permanent team, which they have at the museum to take care of these issues.
I kept going as usual, listening and educating in order to move forward. I went south, to the land of my relatives, to look for testimonies about the military coup in Chile. I found plenty. The memory about this period was still alive. Then, more and more tales came to me. From the north, from the south, from Rapa Nui. The exhibition we made at the museum’s third floor was built with the help of many researchers. Most of them Mapuche. It was done in three large spaces. Mine was a big video installation.
The Museo de la Memoria, for the first time in its ten years of existence, is dealing with the issue of the indigenous peoples of Chile. It took ten years for our voices to be listened in regard to the topic of human rights during the military coup (this exhibition is running until the end of 2018 because it’s the year of the indigenous peoples).
AC: It is also the MICIV’s ten-year anniversary. David, throughout this stage, what do you think is the most significant part of the process? And: how does this process relate to the work of an international organisation like the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indigenas (CLACPI)?
DHP: Ten rains have already fallen over the MICIV, and we reaffirm the idea that cinema and the communication between indigenous peoples play a key role, in order to make sure we are represented. To demonstrate how we can achieve the life that we need and we deserve; not only us, but everyone, humanity as a species urgently needs to reconnect with Mother Earth.
Together with filmmakers Leiqui Uriana and Yanilú Ojeda, we ratified our commitment with the Fundación Audiovisual Indigena Wayaakua, who organises the MICIV, to manage, participate and contribute with our actions, in order to spread our film rights and the communication between indigenous peoples.
This ten years are a testimony of the work of a small team, which nonetheless is very committed to carry forward every festival, every educational workshop, every production, every conversation. It also evidences the existence of a managing team that is convinced that this work is a life plan, which is fundamental to go through the necessary social changes to achieve decolonisation.
It was during the first edition of this festival, in 2008, when the Sala Regional de la Fundación Cinemateca Nacional de Zulia was born. It was also when two more theatres in the towns of Mara and Guajira, as well as the Sala de Cine Itinerante de la Comunidad Indigena de El Socuy were inaugurated.
This shows how those who resist, insist. It is not easy to sustain a coherent process of indigenous cinema and communication. Although we, the indigenous peoples, have managed to move forward and achieve some victories, there is still a lack of interest and commitment from the rest of society, Commitment for the creation, production, diffusion and exhibition of cinematographic works made by the indigenous communities. What we do is an expression of our diversity and cultural wealth. What we do is an instrument to democratise communication and to defend and promote our rights; these are, precisely, the instruments to build intercultural connections and to go through a vital transformation in the entire life of our society.
Wayaakua and the experience at the MICIV are part of the Red de Comunicaciones del Pueblo Way Putchimaajana and of the CLACPI. What binds all of us who are involved with the CLACPI, is the narrative capacity to share our stories, from within our own communities, to build other senses, different to those of our ancestors. To express what we are and what we aspire to for our upcoming generations. It is the struggle against ignorance and discrimination. It is not a fight between one cinema and another cinema; it is not one culture against another culture: it is all of us, the people in this world who defend a dignified life for everyone and aim to protect biodiversity.
AC: Regarding the issue of not placing one cinema against another, I think our lamien Pedro Cayuqueo’s concept is productive: he proposes to create a ruka (which in Mapuzungun means ‘house’, but I mean it in a broader way) where we all can fit. In other words, to contribute with a diversity of genres, experiences and languages to this curatorial space; so this form of indigenous self-representation through all kind of expressions would be interesting for local, regional and national audiences. It can also move across nations within its own framework and in its own language. Over here, the circuit where we present native cinema keeps getting bigger, from universities, to museums and film festivals of all kind. Not only in festivals of indigenous cinema.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure to bring a sample of Mapuche cinema to the University of New York: the city with the largest indigenous population in the USA. It was curated by Francisco and called Wune Adgnen (‘The Image Before the Image’). Back then, Francisco had already opened the First Nations’ section at the Festival Internacional de Cine de Valdivia. Tell us: how did you open this space in what may be the most important film festival in Chile?
FH: The Festival Internacional de Cine de Valdivia exists in one of the oldest ancestral territories in the nation. By the way, this festival has the name of a Spanish conquistador and not the ancestral name given to this land: Aiwin Leufu, which in the original Mapuzungun language means ‘where the rivers cast a shadow.’ The thing is, they never thought to have a section for First Nations’ cinema at the festival (this is a name I took from my brothers in Canada). Six years ago, the former festival director Bruno Bettati invited me to organise a retrospective look from the point of view of a Mapuche filmmaker. Then, together with the journalist Pedro Cayuqueo, we lobbied to generate a permanent section that focuses on these themes. We explained it was an imminent need and that, besides, we were in an ancestral territory and, by default, we were entitled to a space of our own.
We had sponsorship from the beginning, this allowed us to invite brothers and sisters from other nations. Among them, I invited Alanis Obomsawin from the Abenaki nation in Canada, who is a world leader in indigenous cinema. When we met at the ImagineNative Festival in Toronto, she asked me to invite her to Chile one day, to the Mapuche territory, and I promised her I would do so. Her presence gave our section credibility and captured the attention of the world’s press. This surprised us at the festival, to know indigenous cinema matters to the world. Thus, we gave her a statue at the festival: for her trajectory and for her support. It was given by the Mapuche community, friends of mine. She left us with an educational message, a message of hope and she sang by the river.
This is how the Festival de Cine de Valdivia opened. This provoked an urgent change in the festival’s vision. By chance, I became a cinema curator. I took it as a political and spiritual mission. An emergency mission to activate spaces that we have never occupied, which have only been occupied by the elites of the dominant cultures. First Nations was installed as a permanent feature, in the festival and, to an extent, in people’s collective conscience. This awareness is produced by a constant educational process: about the themes explored by the First Nations’ movies, about the importance they have and the role they play. I became a ‘mapuchizator’ of themes. To me, this has been a privilege and a major learning process.
AC: It was very exciting to see from afar your encounter with Alanis at the territory. Quite an achievement, because it is hard to maintain a communication between North and South. But yours keeps going on.
DHP: We are at a point of no return, because indigenous cinema has a great number of stories and of possible experiences in the multi-coloured range of film genres. It provides visibility to the impact we have on the communities and on Latin American society. The same way it happens with the socio-cultural initiatives of the communities. Above all, it shares the possibility of spiritual transformation that we can find through the indigenous narrative. Because we can’t expect changes if we don’t change ourselves.
FH: This life already existed, but it was asleep, like the Mapuche language in Chile. Its descendants dream in their ancestral language, but when they wake up they don’t speak it. They just need to stir it and wake it up, so it can flourish once again among us: our language is not dead and neither is our world view. It just fell asleep for a long time, as a product of the mobilisations and the abuses in this world. But we must not worry, as we have returned with spiritual force in this age, to provoke a change of energy. Our generation has awaken. We are alive. The image before the image, life before the dream.