Two Oscar entries from Latin America center indigenous stories, languages
Two of the Latin American entries in the Academy Award pool for "Best Foreign Film" this year are unusual. Most entries from Latin America unfold in Spanish, but this year Venezuela and Guatemala have selected films in Warao and Kaqchikel, respectively.
Venezuela's entry, filmed by Cuban-Venezuelan filmmaker Mario Crespo, is Lo que lleva el río (Gone with the river), and much of it takes place along the Orinoco River, among the indigenous Warao people. The film's central conflict is young Dauna's (the Warao protagonist) desire to leave her traditional indigenous village to study.
The film has been a hit in Venezuela, where it premiered in March, and was Venezuela's entry in the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. It didn't win any awards there, but Ixcanul, the Guatemalan film in Kaqchikel won a Silver Bear.
Ixcanul (Volcano), Guatemala's very first entry for Oscar consideration, is a Guatemalan/French coproduction directed by Jayro Bustamante and centers on a young Kaqchikel woman's unwanted pregnancy and the way it throws her into contact with a world far-removed from the coffee plantation where she and her Kaqchikel kin work.
The film, which has been called "hypnotically beautiful" also won top Latin American honors at the Cartagena and Guadalajara International film festivals; was screened at the Telluride festival, and is slated to be screened at the Toronto festival as well. It premiered in Guatemala in August, and is the source of a great deal of pride for Guatemalans inside and outside of the country. Variety announced today that Kino Lorber has acquired the North American rights to the film.
The two film entries reflect the fact that Latin America — despite its penchant for foregrounding light-skinned Latinos and Latinas in its news and entertainment media — is racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse.
There are at 28 indigenous groups in Venezuela; four of them, including the Warao, with populations of more than 10,000. Indigenous peoples constitute approximately 2 percent of Venezuela's total population.
Guatemala's indigenous population is nearly half of the total population of the country. The majority of the indigenous peoples are of Maya descent and retain a very strong indigenous identity; 26 separate indigenous languages are spoken. The Kaqchikel people, along with the K'iche, Ixil, Mam and other indigenous groups were targeted for genocide. They underwent horrific massacres and wholesale displacement by consecutive repressive governments during Guatemala's 36-year undeclared civil war, but for the past 20 years have led the efforts to bring the architects of the genocide to justice, and to keep foreign mining operations off their lands.