Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm Not Crazy. No really, I'm Not.

Just got back from a short trip to the Yungas of La Paz. These are the steep tropical foothills of the Andes, a description that hardly does them justice. It is a landscape that doesn't exist in any other context of the imagination. You can't really photograph it because there isn't a center of focus. Are you looking at the mountains -- long finger ridges that go on forever in all directions -- or are you looking at the valleys -- the negative space between the mountains. Or the clouds, which move across the sky in every different angle all at the same time. It's not a landscape I can explain or even understand.

This trip include a visit to Santa Rosa de Lima and a community called Chillata. Chillata is about a two hour walk from the main road. No cars, no nothing. It's a pretty heavily traveled road though, because there are a number of gold mines up above the town. I saw at least eight people and two mules.

The community itself operates a mine too, which seems to be their principal cash income. At the bottom of the valley, the hillsides are covered in all coca fields. Though they said they had them here too, I didn't see any at all. The terrain is so steep and hilly that they may easily have been hidden out of eyesight from the road, but certainly it is nothing like the volume in other parts of the Yungas.

It was nice to be out of the city, and nice to be walking around in the country. And it's a challenge to find individuals and communities that are really interested in presenting their community and their reality in a documentary. How do you explain to someone who has never seen a documentary that this documentary will present a comparison between mining in the US and mining in Bolivia? How do you explain that I'm not doing this to make money, that I may break even if I get lucky, but that really what I am interested in is telling a story? Their story really.

What I am doing lies so far outside of their vision of the world and of what is possible, that it's hard to convince people that I this is really what I am doing. Come to think of it, I imagine that a number of you feel the same way.

What's interesting (and reassuring, sort of) is that in the mining towns, like Siglo XX, I found a number of people who said they wouldn't mind if I filmed them, they just wanted me to make a documentary that showed their reality. It's reassuring because it took me at least three visits to find these people and get to know them. So I think that with a little time and a lot of walking, I'll be able to find the same thing here in the Yungas.

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