Cineola Festival, Resistir: The Importance Of Community

“We believe it is important to build the community (…) because it reunites people; because that teaches us to love us; because that teaches us to respect each other; because that teaches us to be”, says Rafael, widely known as Tio Lape, an old musician, and woodworker.

Cineola Festival, Resistir: The Importance Of Community
Here, We Are (2018) – source: Seed&Sparks

Tio Lape and his mentee, Joel, live in a small Mexican town heavily affected by the war on drugs and use their love of Son Jarocho, a regional type of folk music, to not only preserve their culture but to give their constantly threatened lives meaning. Tio Lape calls music his “religion”. Estamos, Que Es Ganancia (Here, We Are) wisely ends in a prayer.

Venezuela’s new reality

In Venezuela, a different type of war brings people together: The Bread Wars. The Breadmaker follows the Chavista collective La Minka as they attempt to democratise the access to bread, a commodity made scarce by the country’s food shortages, and employed by president Nicolás Maduro as a way to accuse private business owners of sabotaging his government. To the president, by hoarding the precious flour, bakers allegedly intended to damage the economy – and his position.

Cineola Festival, Resistir: The Importance Of Community
The Breadmaker (2019) – source: The Guardian

“For us, the family is the community”, says Natalia, one of La Minka’s members. A passionate dancer, the young woman tells the story of how she fell in love with both Colombia’s socialist ambitions and an idealistic local man. As she dances through the streets of Caracas, the audience sees her grow her first daughter amidst the fall of many of the social structures that sustained her idea of home. Her words heavily echo Tio Lape’s message in Here, We Are, these two distant local leading voices sharing the importance of nurturing a sense of community to battle their difficult circumstances.

The contemplative beauty of La Pesca

In La Pesca, this sense of community derives not from a war, but a shared bloodline. Los Cantillo, a group of fishermen in the ancestral Colombian Caribbean coast town of Taganga, lead their lives in a poetic seaside version of Groundhog Day. From masterfully weaving nets to casually playing a game of dominoes, everything revolves around waiting for the fish. Contrary to the journalistic tone of The Breadmaker, or the classic storytelling method adopted in Here We Are, La Pesca is all about contemplation. From the skilfully orchestrated movements of their weaving fingers to the way their bodies navigate familiar waters; the fishermen are portrayed as enchanted creatures inhabiting a dreamland of their own.

Cineola Festival, Resistir: The Importance Of Community
La Pesca (2017) – source: Seed&Sparks

The static routine makes one wonder if time simply stands still in this small town. When one of its inhabitants is reminded of how long it has been since his arrival, he stares into the ocean and says: “Time flies, doesn’t it?”. This elastic nature of time is attenuated by the directorial choice of having the first third of the film as a sequence of images with no audible dialogue. As the waves crash against the boats at the dawn of a new day, the clocks turn back to an allegoric start. One more.

To Be Heard and the struggles of LGBTIQ+ refugees

Silent contemplation is far from the main goal of To Be Heard/Hazte Sentir, a striking chronicle of the lives of people in Casa Miga, the first and only LGBTIQ+ refugee centre in Latin America. The reality faced by three Venezuelan refugees is gut-wrenching: not only do they have to face adversities imposed by the language barrier and cultural shock, but they are also heavily marginalised as members of the LGBTIQ+ community.

When asked about the first words he used in Portuguese, Julio smiles and says: “Estou com fome. I’m hungry. I never begged for food but that’s what they taught me to say to the guards. Everybody told me that’s the most important thing to learn”. Hunger has spread across crisis-ridden Venezuela like a plague. According to Julio, one had to work 20 days to buy a bag of rice, a whole month for a piece of chicken. Leaving his home country was the last resource, a way out of unprecedented misery. What he found upon arrival, however, was far from his already modest expectations.

In a country where its citizens don’t have access to food, medicine is an even scarcer commodity. As a doctor, Luis had to see patients repeatedly denied care, charged with the responsibility of financing their treatments. The weight was too much to bear and, just like Julio, he decided to leave his beloved Venezuela behind. Flicking through several professional accreditations, Luis questions if he will ever practise medicine again. In Brazil, the certified doctor survives by selling water on the streets.

Also fighting an uphill battle against employment, Sahary reflects on the many struggles of trans women: “I don’t know if [I can’t get a job] because I’m trans of because I don’t speak Portuguese very well”. The prejudiced barriers Sahary came across led her to resource to sex work to avoid starvation. “I survived on the streets selling my body out of necessity. The truth is that trans people deserve more than this”, she a friend subjected to the same grueling disparities.

Cineola Festival, Resistir: The Importance Of Community
To Be Heard (2019) – source: Seed&Sparks

Once one learns the stories of these three refugees, including the many instances in which homophobia endangered their lives, it becomes much easier to understand the strength of the community formed by the residents of Casa Miga. By having the members of the shelter interview each other, To Be Heard offers a valuable first-hand account on the experience of being an LGBTIQ+ refugee in a country with one of the highest rates of homophobia fuelled hate crimes in the world. Director Dieter Deswarte exposes the shocking statistic at the end of his film: in Brazil, someone is killed in a homophobic attack every 16 hours.

A window into contemporary Latin America

All of the aforementioned documentaries beautifully transport the viewer into different realities that share one very important common trait: the vitality of union to survival. This communal instinct shows itself in a variety of ways, from a fully politically organised group to a family that proudly reproduces a decades-long tradition that deeply roots them to their home. By pondering on the benefits of having an artistic outlet and preserving cultural traditions as well as offering powerful political statements through the use of statistics and hard facts, all films are greatly effective in depicting marginalised communities.

In an ocean of abundant yet often untrustworthy information, the selection made by the CINEOLA Festival proves to be a valuable resource to those who wish to acquire a better understanding of contemporary Latin America and its many facets. It is also a poignant yet crucial reminder of the need for deep, sincere human connection.

What is your favourite Latin American documentary? Share your thoughts and comments!

Cineola Festival will be held online by Seed&Spark on June 6-12. Proceeds from the festival will benefit San Francisco venues The Roxie and Artists’ Television Access, as well as CARECEN SF, a non-profit supporting Latino, immigrant and under-resourced families in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tickets and festival passes can be purchased here.


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