In 1967, imbued with the utopian spirit of the Cuban Revolution, documentary filmmaker Octavio Cortázar brought a small camera crew on a ride-along with a mobile film projection unit. Armed with speakers, projectors, and military jeeps, the team trudged deep through the rugged terrain of the Sierra Maestra to an isolated rural community that had never previously been exposed to cinema. The result, a short documentary entitled Por primera vez, is a poetic testament to the magic of the seventh art and the universality of the moving image.
Now, nearly fifty years later, the folks at Ambulante Colombia have done precisely the same thing with the indigenous Arhuaco people of Northern Colombia. Based in the high mountains surrounding their sacred Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the 47,000-strong ethnic group lives peacefully in their traditional village dynamic without access to electricity or running water, cultivating crops ranging from coffee to corn. Apparently sensing an opportunity to further their mission of dialogue and community engagement, the folks at Ambulante recently decided to bring their roving screenings to the remote Arhuaco community of Nabusimake, and by all accounts the Arhuacos were down. But what to show? The Expendables 2? The Hunger Games? Ant-Man?
It seems Ambulante opted for the considerably safer and ethically neutral documentary Colombia, magia salvaje, which comes off as a variation on National Geographic’s Planet Earth, showcasing the rich biodiversity of Colombia’s flora and fauna. Fortunately, Ambulante’s screening was a hit amongst the 500 Arhuacos that came out for the show, and the Spanish newspaper El País has published a photo gallery from the historical encounter. The images, filled with wide-eyed children staring in wonder, are startling in their similarity to Cortázar’s documentary, which in turn calls to mind one of the most emblematic lines from the film. A young campesina mother, asked what she thought cinema might be, responded: “It must something beautiful and very important.” I’m sure that as of last week, the Arhuaco people would agree.
Click through some of the photos by Camilo Rozo in the gallery above. See the complete gallery and a video of the screening on El Pais.
Ambulante‘s roving documentary film festival heads to Los Angeles on September 19 – October 4.