The politics of popular memory:
Jorge Sanjinés' The Courage of the People


Gerard Dapena

Macalester College


The 1960s and ‘70s witnessed a transcontinental search among a generation of Latin American filmmakers for new cinematic alternatives to dominant, commercial modes of filmmaking. Grouped under the broad rubric of the New Latin American Cinema, these filmmakers shared a desire to change both the institutional and the aesthetic parameters that had hitherto determined and shaped the production, distribution and exhibition of films. They also shared a range of left-wing political affiliations, borne out of the troubled histories of many Latin American nations, with their legacies of foreign-backed dictatorships –often ushered-in by bloody military coups– state-sponsored repression, and large-scale disenfranchisement of minority ethnic groups and the working-class and rural poor. Indeed, most of these filmmakers believed the act of making a film should in itself constitute a political intervention aimed at either transforming the field of representation (foregrounding the concerns of under-represented or excluded constituencies) or the means of production (eschewing the studio system for an independent approach). For the filmmakers who comprised the new Latin American Cinema, aesthetic choices (abandoning the conventions of classical cinema and, in their most radical manifestations, even fictional narratives) constituted political statements invested with revolutionary meaning.

Born in Bolivia in 1937, Jorge Sanjinés is a key figure associated with the New Latin American cinema. Widely regarded as one of Latin America’s most eloquent and passionate theorists, he has directed a body of work that epitomizes the conjunction of aesthetic and politics characteristic of the movement’s most far-reaching proposals. In this paper, I discuss one of Sanjinés’ most significant and representative films, The Courage of the People (El coraje del pueblo, 1971), a work that simultaneously marked a new direction in his career and a culmination of earlier attempts to rethink cinema’s connection to history and its relation to a national-popular culture rooted in popular memory and a collective sense of identity.

Sanjinés’ mature cinema embodies a distinctive blend of fiction and documentary, a hybrid form that purposely seeks to blur the boundaries between genres, to question the notion of authorship, and to redefine the nature of spectatorship and reconfigure the composition of audiences with the ultimate goal of effecting political and social change. It must be noted that Sanjinés’ choice of a documentary-like format for his narrative films is not exceptional within the context of Bolivia’s film industry; the country’s first feature-length films in the sound era were documentaries. What distinguishes Sanjinés’ body of work is its enormous sensitivity towards the cultural traditions of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples, and its unwavering commitment to a political understanding of cinema’s role in combating injustice, exploitation, state violence, and racism. Cinema, for Sanjinés, should articulate a language of resistance, struggle, and liberation.

After cultivating a love of cinema in the moviehouses of Lima, Peru during the 1950s and learning his craft in the University of Chile’s Film School in 1959, Sanjinés returned to his native country in 1960 to establish Bolivia’s first film school. During the five months it was in operation, the Film School counted with 25 students, but it soon encountered opposition from the Bolivian Film Institute and Sanjinés eventually decided to close it rather than allow the government to take it over. From this experience, Sanjinés came to realize the contradictions involved in making films in a poor underdeveloped country like Bolivia, and, eventually, to rethink the notion of what a national cinema should be like in a society divided by class, race, ethnicity, language and history.

Sanjinés views the history of Bolivian cinema as a confrontation between national and anti-national forces, namely between those who place the interests of the Bolivian people first and those whose ideas and decisions have been influenced by the interests of foreign powers. The revolution of 1952, which brought a kind of Popular Front government to power, shook a generation of Bolivian artists and intellectuals, sparking a new awareness of the nation’s problems, and compelled a number of filmmakers to produce a militant cinema with the goal of combating imperialism and the collaborationist attitudes of Bolivia’s elites. Sanjinés’ cinema followed in the spirit unleashed by the revolution of 1952. His first feature, Ukamau (Así es, 1966) told the story of an Indian man who exacts revenge on a powerful mestizo for the rape of his wife. His next feature, Yawar Mallku, aka The Blood of the Condor (1968), followed a city mestizo’s desperate efforts to obtain a blood transfusion for his peasant brother, who has been wounded by the army in a demonstration. At the same time, the film uncovered the illicit sterilizations of Indian women performed by the U.S. Peace Corps. In this covert physical sterilization of Bolivia’s people, Sanjinés saw a metaphor for the cultural sterilization of Bolivia’s upper classes, illustrated by their adoption of an imported, Western identity that convinced them of the inferiority of indigenous cultures. (1)[1]

Through his films, and in his writings and declarations, Sanjinés has manifested a commitment to a cinema that exposes and combats the institutions and practices that have marginalized and excluded Bolivia’s Indians from political participation and economic gain. Although Sanjinés has stated that his intention was not to create “a cine indigenista,” he notes that many Bolivians, from artists and intellectuals to politicians and the ruling class, have drawn heavily in the past, and continue to do so, from indigenous cultures in order to fashion their own national identity, while at the same time voicing and implementing racist policies that oppress the Indians. (97) Through the formation of a film collective with like-minded colleagues, and the choice of an indigenous name, Ukamau, Sanjinés stated an explicit identification with Bolivian indigenous culture.[2]

While showing Ukamau and The Blood of the Condor to audiences of peasants and workers across Bolivia, Sanjinés and his colleagues were perplexed by the lukewarm response of most spectators to the events depicted on the screen. Sanjinés had expected that these two films would generate a debate among the Indians over Bolivia’s severe social and economic problems. While a few liberal, urban dwellers were deeply affected by the plight of Bolivia’s Indians, the latter remained largely unmoved. Sanjinés later came to attribute this lack of enthusiasm to the fact that the misery and injustice the Ukamau group had portrayed was a daily experience to most Indians. What they wanted, according to Sanjinés, was not to be shown the all too familiar effects of poverty, but its origins and causes. (Burton Carvajal  38)

Regarding this outcome as a failure on his part, Sanjinés took it upon himself to ensure that his next two projects, the unfinished feature Los caminos de la muerte and The Courage of the People, would conform to the wishes of its Indian audiences. Shot in the Andean mining community of Siglo XX, in a heavily indigenous area of Bolivia, The Courage of the People sought to commemorate a recent massacre of miners and peasants and, in the process, to expose the economic and political agents that ordered the bloodshed, and ultimately worked to erase the memory of these tragic events. The origins of the project can be traced back to a small newspaper item that mentioned the killing of several miners in Siglo XX on June 24, 1967. At the time, Bolivia’s government was involved in a full-scale war with the guerilla forces of Ernesto Che Guevara, which were widely believed to have received support from indigenous communities. When student organizers, union leaders, and representatives of various mining and peasant groups convened to meet on June 24 in Siglo XX to work out a common strategy that would improve their situation and bring about change in Bolivia, the army intervened to pre-empt the meeting and eliminate the movement’s leadership. The assault took place during the early morning hours, while the villagers were still asleep, after a long night of festivities in celebration of St. John.

Sanjinés’ collaborator, Oscar Soria, wrote a screenplay that attempted to reconstruct a more veracious account of the event. The film was eventually made when RAI, Italy’s state television –which was interested in co-producing a film about Bolivia– partnered with Sanjinés and came through with part of the financing. The Courage of the People was completed in four months and premiered at the Pesaro Film Festival; a military coup that took place in Bolivia while Sanjinés was in Europe editing the film made it impossible for him to return to his native country for many years. The Courage of the People was shown in Bolivia for the first time only in 1978, with the return of democratic rule. (3)[3]

Faced with the wave of dictatorships that overtook Bolivia and other Latin American countries in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the ensuing clamp-down in the mainstream media, Sanjinés came to envision the cinema as the last repository of memory, charged with the crucial mission of refuting official truths and breaking the silence that has enabled dominant groups to (re)write history in order to further their own interests. As a Marxist, Sanjinés believes that History is made by the masses, not the individual; individual expression and identity must be subsumed within the collective. Sanjinés once described his task as an urge to expose and explain how the enemy operates, which is to divide the people and annul its sense of collectivity, and, by implication, its sense of history. (Sanjinés 130) Thus, Sanjinés’ revisionist project sees the cinema as possibly the last repository of popular memory and, for that reason, it bears a clear political vocation. (4)[4]

Sanjinés approached The Courage of the People as both a historical reconstruction and a testimonial to popular resilience; the film was shot in the actual places where the events of 1967 occurred and the dialogs were drawn from the protagonists’ memories or were based on their personal reflections. Sanjinés’ conviction that fictional codes tend to undermine verisimilitude and compromise the representation of truth prompted him to abandon a classical narrative construction and to devise filmic techniques designed to reflect the manner in which members of traditional communities access the past and participate in its reenactment. (5)[5] In The Courage of the People, the inhabitants of Siglo XX exercised the power of their own memories to reclaim their history. The film, for instance, features interviews with five witnesses and survivors: Domitla Chingara, who organized the miners’ wives against the abuses of the mining company; Felicidad Coca, the widow of a union leader; Simón Reinaga, a soldier; Federico Vallejo, a miner; and Eusebio Gironda, a student organizer.

The Courage of the People begins with a recreation of the 1942 massacre of Cataví, one of a string of violent attacks against workers and peasants that the film will proceed to denounce. On this occasion, a large group of striking miners demanding a pay increase were gunned down on the antiplano of Cataví by government troops acting under pressure from the mining company owned by Simón Patiño; about four hundred protesters died and over a 1,000 were wounded. In the sequence that follows, a montage of photographs, various military and political figures are explicitly named and held responsible for these deaths. But as the next few minutes make clear, the massacre of Cataví was not an isolated incident, but one episode in a protracted (and undeclared) war against workers, trade unions, and peasant groups, carried out from the highest echelons of power. As Sanjinés presents each ensuing massacre (Potosí 1949, Siglo XX 1949, Villa Victoria 1950, Sora 1964, Llallagua 1965), leading up to the central act of violence (the 1967 massacre of Siglo XX) that is the nucleus of the film, it becomes apparent that leading businessmen, top military officials, and even the president of Bolivia have the blood of civilians on their hands. Sanjinés makes it his priority to assign blame and set the historical record straight.

The film then moves to the present, as it introduces the viewer to the mining community of Siglo XX; a voice-over narration highlights the extreme poverty, a consequence of low salaries, and the resulting high levels of disease and infant mortality. A group of women gather at the local pulpería (concession store), run by the mining company, to complain about the lack of basic staples, like meat and potatoes; faced with the store manager’s evasive answers, they decide to stage a protest in the company’s headquarters, but not before accusing their husbands and sons of passivity and cowardice for not having had the courage of seeking redress. Once at headquarters, the women stage a hunger strike until they are allowed a meeting with the company’s director. Tensions escalate as the women air their demands for better wages and living conditions and management responds by accusing them of being political agents for the guerrilla insurgency, thereby attempting to close off any conversation. This condescending attitude resurfaces in the next sequence, where a young man visits headquarters to inquire about the whereabouts of strikers arrested during an action. As was the case with the women protesters, management stalls his requests for information by feigning ignorance and ultimately, amid disparaging racist remarks, accuses him of seditious activities. Later in the evening, he is picked up off the street, tortured for information concerning the strike’s leadership, and eventually tossed onto the edge of a road.

Throughout these scenes, Sanjinés sets out to give his intended audiences what they asked for: the origins and causes of their oppression. In The Courage of the People, Sanjinés underlines socio-economic conflicts, reveals structures and systems of exploitation, and exposes an institutionalized culture of violence and discrimination directed against indigenous peoples. The film depicts the opposing sides of big business (and its repressive apparatus) on one end and the workers (and their families and communities) on the other; it shows women demanding the basic right to a dignified subsistence for their husbands and children and callous corporate managers busting unions and denying workers’ rights, while they squeeze them economically and starve their kin.

With its Marxist interpretation of socio-economic formations and relationships, Sanjinés’ narrative, such as it is, seeks to uncover the neo-liberal and neo-colonial policies that have contributed to the perpetuation of Bolivia’s underdevelopment and to censure the local factions and institutions which, in their subservience to foreign economic interests, have enacted measures that enable the plunder of Bolivia’s natural resources and the deadly repression of their fellow countrymen. As he has stated repeatedly, Sanjinés’ ultimate goal was to transform the cultural domain into another field for anti-imperialist action in order to create a revolutionary consciousness among audiences that could bring about change. (Burton 39) To this effect, Sanjinés stated, in no uncertain terms, his refusal to make films for the bourgeoisie (6)[6], and the imperative to stand by (and at the service of) the people: “You are either with the people or against them.” (O se está junto al pueblo o contra el.” Ibid, 14) The Courage of the People exemplifies this desire to turn the cinema into an instrument of protest and denunciation that elucidates for the people the sources and means of their oppression. During the interview with student organizer Eusebio Gironda, the young man frames his cause as a struggle for national sovereignty against U.S. control of Bolivia’s economy. Later, in the assembly scene, the workers chant “Death to Yankee Imperialism” and “Yes to a free Bolivia, No to a Yankee colony.”

Sanjinés’ political conversion to the cause of the people necessarily required a similar overhaul of his cinema’s formal and aesthetic components. The first step involved the adoption of cinematic strategies that were sensitive to Bolivian cultural forms and patterns –especially those belonging to the populous indigenous communities. Because members of Indian communities from the Andes think of themselves as part of a collective, and not foremost as individuals, Sanjinés began to gravitate towards forms of cinematic practice that recognized this cultural emphasis on group relations. By 1970, it became clear to Sanjinés that the paradigm of the god-like filmmaker –the individual auteur who dictated and shaped his cinematic materials from a position of power and superior aesthetic knowledge– was unacceptable and had to be abolished.

Sanjinés’ involvement with the Aymara and Quechua Indians led him to believe that any film telling the story of a collective event to an audience that identified itself primarily on a communal basis required a more participatory mode of filmmaking. For Sanjinés, this was a twofold process. First, he envisioned a cinema whose fundamental protagonists would not be heroic figures, or even strongly individualized characters, but rather “social actors” who ultimately stood in for the people, the collective. Secondly, he strove for ways to transfer the communal nature of Indian social structures onto the artistic process. Essentially, Sanjinés felt compelled to abandon the concept of a structured or “immutable script” and turn towards a greater freedom in the improvisation of dialog, allowing for a substantial degree of creative input from his ‘social actors”. In Ukamau and Yawar Mallku, the Ukamau group had already cast mainly non-professional performers, culled from the communities presented in the films, but in The Courage of the People, these performers now assumed responsibility for their lines, physical gestures, and vocal delivery. Artificiality was banished and, in its stead, a greater sense of authenticity would be achieved, stemming from a popular sensibility that Sanjinés envisioned as “pure, free of stereotypes and alienation.” (Sanjinés, Problems v.1 64)

Under this arrangement, both filmmaker & screenwriter took on new roles as vessels for popular creativity, inflecting a shift in power dynamics between the (white, urban) artist and the (indigenous) people. Sanjinés described this process as the substitution of a more horizontal and egalitarian method of filmmaking for the vertical and hierarchical approaches of conventional filmmaking (Burton 47), the latter being indirect reflections of the structures that have guaranteed social and racial privileges in Bolivia since the colonial era. Of course, as the film’s director, Sanjinés retained final artistic control over the film’s editing and eventual shape, but the effort he invested in incorporating popular participation and allowing the people to tell their story in their own words and actions should not be minimized. For Sanjinés, the end result of this cinematic paradigm shift would lead to an empowerment of the people in the act of making films and a recognition of art’s emancipating potential. As Sanjinés put it, “we, the components with the film equipment, became the instruments of the people who were expressing themselves and fighting through our medium!” (Martin 64)

As a corollary of this more improvisational approach, Sanjinés’ cinema also gravitated towards a reduction of plot, at least as it is usually understood in mainstream cinema. A film like The Courage of the People combines interviews, photographic stills, historical reconstructions featuring real-life people acting as themselves; all of these disparate elements are linked together with little forward narrative drive, undermining the film’s status as fiction. In this regard, Sanjinés has criticized left-wing filmmakers, mentioning Costa Gavras as one example, who purport to create revolutionary films while still retaining fictional devices, like suspense. To Sanjinés’ mind, this type of cinema wears its revolutionary engagement only on the surface, its well-intentioned politics undone by formal choices.[7] In general, Sanjinés does steer clear in The Courage of the People from resorting to the conventional narrative codes of political thrillers like Gavras’ Z, although a few scenes, like the army’s assault on the miner’s radio station and their attempt to destroy the alarm signal that has alerted the village to their presence, do rely on the use of a certain amount of narrative suspense attained through editing, framing, camera placement, and sound.

Sanjinés and his colleagues went to great lengths to realize their ideal of incorporating the collective processes of creativity and participation that characterize popular indigenous cultures, however utopian this effort may appear. Oral modes of transmitting knowledge, for instance, are still important to Andean communities. In The Courage of the People, the miners of Siglo XX were charged with the task of choosing their own words and staging their own scenarios, and were given total freedom of gesture and expression. In certain sequences, like the women’s hunger-strike or the assembly of workers on the eve of the massacre, the resultant feeling of spontaneity reinforces the documentary effect. Sometimes, the lack of professional training and the script’s flexibility translate into awkward moments when the performer stumbles on his words or manifests a momentary self-consciousness in front of the camera, thus exhibiting a certain “failure” of acting, as it would be traditionally understood.

At other times, as in the recreation of the two massacres, the spectator is carried away by the naturalism and vividness of the performances. A tension of sorts ensues between history and performance, fiction and documentary: between our awareness of watching a historical reconstruction (and thus, a certain fictional structure) and our knowledge that the recorded performance features real historical agents, which brings it closer to the level of documentary. This powerful effect is further heightened by the knowledge that many of the performers were survivors and witnesses of the carnage and willingly relived the tragic events in a cinematic re-presentation of trauma –screaming, tearing their hair and pummeling their chest, falling to the ground covered in blood, carrying the wounded to safety. (8)[8] These scenes are perhaps the most striking and effective parts of Sanjinés’ film, distilling a formal power and emotion rarely seen in the cinema of its time. This performativity of trauma, however, is not uncommon to Andean culture and folklore, for there is a long history, dating back to the colonial era, of theatrical performances that restaged the Spaniards’ conquest and destruction of the Inca empire.

The knowledge that we are watching former survivors of state-sponsored murder reenact the tragic circumstances that could have ended their lives, as they did those of their neighbors, friends, and relatives, is conducive to a measure of pathos. Sanjinés noted that during the recreation and shooting of the massacres many participants and bystanders present during the recording of the scenes had been moved to tears, unable to distinguish between the representation unfolding before their eyes and the reality it bore witness to. (Sanjinés 24) This effect, in Sanjinés’ view, was not an undesirable outcome. In fact, unlike other filmmakers who repudiate classical cinematic styles, and tend to embrace distantiating techniques to provoke a critical stance in the viewer, Sanjinés believes that emotion is a fundamental device. Without it, identification with the events and characters on screen is lost and so is the possibility for involvement, reflection, and solidarity. (9)[9]

Music and song have traditionally played an important role in generating cinematic affect. Although there is no continuous musical soundtrack in The Courage of the People, Sanjinés makes an effective use of popular songs on two occasions during the festivities that precede the massacre. The first is sung by a young miner; the second by a little girl. The lyrics of both songs speak of the miners’ exploitation and poverty and their feelings of hopelessness. They work to humanize the people of Siglo XX and to foster the spectator’s empathy and sense of solidarity.

Although Sanjinés sought to craft a direct and simplified cinematic style that would not detract from the purpose of raising political consciousness and inciting action, he also has repeatedly stated there must be an aesthetic component to any revolutionary film or it will be reduced to a mere pamphlet. While a revolutionary cinema must seek beauty as a means (and not as an end), a measure of aesthetic pleasure, resulting from a dialectical interrelation between form and the filmmaker’s political goals, will enhance the work’s revolutionary power and effectiveness. Indeed, Sanjinés has affirmed the political necessity of art and the political dimensions of beauty.(10)[10] In his words, “A cinema as weapon, as the cinematic expression of a people without cinema, must preoccupy itself with beauty, because beauty is an indispensable element….The struggle for beauty is the struggle for culture is the struggle for revolution.” (Sanjinés, Theory 94-95)

In The Courage of the People, Sanjinés deploys various stylistic devices that endow his film with an aesthetic dimension and contribute, at the same time, to the rise of emotion. For instance, the opening scene starts off with extreme long shots of a certain duration that capture the vastness of the antiplano and render the advancing miners one more element of the landscape. As the killings begin, the editing rhythms intensify, with faster cuts between the soldiers’ artillery and the strikers and a frequent use of close-ups and zooms towards faces and machine guns. A handheld camera makes it way between the strikers, hovering over the corpses and moving closer to the traumatized survivors, while the soundtrack juxtaposes the repetitive sound of gunfire and the piercing screams and laments of the victims. The combination of these visual and aural elements makes for a powerful impact on the viewer, fully conveying the deliberate brutality of the violence and the defenselessness of the miners.

Ever optimistic, Sanjinés has nonetheless acknowledged that a revolutionary cinema is a work in progress, given the difficulty of changing bourgeois ideology. Sanjinés has pointed out that prior to the 1960s, a significant number of Bolivian films were financed by various U.S. agencies and, occasionally, even by the American embassy. These financial ties limited the amount of critical freedom allowed, ensuring that films were made with a high degree of apoliticism. Given the intense political nature of Sanjinés’ cinema, he has had to confront endless obstacles and limitations to the making, exhibition and distribution of his films. Most of them were made under tight financial conditions, involving loans, mortgages of homes and property, and the sale of personal objects. Ukamau and The Blood of the Condor were shown to large numbers of urban and indigenous spectators despite their rejection by commercial circuits and government attempts to prohibit their circulation. For its part, The Courage of the People could not be screened in Bolivia for seven years after its completion. Even RAI attempted to suppress the film after it realized the implications of its denunciation of North American intervention in Bolivia’s domestic affairs; for some years, a censored version was the only print available. And the negatives of Sanjinés’ preceding film, Los caminos de la muerte, were destroyed in a German laboratory under mysterious circumstances.

 Despite this history of misfortune and sabotage, Sanjinés continues to believe in taking advantage in lulls of government oppression or in system’s cracks to exhibit and distribute revolutionary films. (Martin 68)[11] He points out that The Blood of the Condor, for instance, was seen by nearly 250,000 people in Bolivia, through portable projection systems in the countryside and screenings in universities, union halls, workers’ centers, and film societies. Sanjinés’ films have also been shown in different venues across Latin America, most notably in Cuba, Chile, and Ecuador. The solution for Sanjnés entails the development of alternative modes to commercial distribution and exhibition, bypassing mainstream circuits and going directly to where the target audiences reside.

Sanjinés is still active today as both a filmmaker and a teacher, working towards the foundation of new local film school, the Escuela Andina de Cinematografía, scheduled to open this year. His most recent feature, Los hijos del ultimo jardín, a film about city youth shot in digital video, premiered in Bolivia in January of 2004 and is still being shown throughout the country. The Fundación Ukamau continues to screen Sanjinés’ work to new generations of Bolivians. The Courage of the People was re-released to strong popular demand as recently as the fall of 2003.

In the past few years, Sanjinés has become increasingly preoccupied with historical reflection and the importance of memory. The Courage of the People exhibited for the first time this desire to trace and elucidate connections between historical events across time in order to fashion a counter-history that debunks official chronicles invested in the erasure of alternative experiences. Sanjinés’ recent work evinces a desire to speak to Bolivian youth about the past, to inculcate in them a sense of history and a respect for the Indian ¨Others¨, and to rouse them to fight segregation in the hopes of avoiding more bloodshed and, ultimately forging a more organic nation. (12)[12]

Much to Sanjinés’ chagrin, Bolivia today is still a divided nation. Reeling from the negative economic impact of neo-liberal policies, the Indian population, as in 1952, has created alliances with students, teachers, workers and peasants, and are staging massive protests in order to reclaim the right to decide (and benefit from) the future exploitation of the country’s natural wealth (in the 1950s and 1960s it was tin, today it is natural gas). Although Bolivia’s Indians wield greater political power today through their representatives in the parliament, the ruling class continues to marginalize them and minimize, when not despise, their culture and values. For Sanjinés, this history of incomprehension has gone on too long and must be put to rest. (Ferrari)

The Courage of the People ends with a message of hope. First, Sanjinés underscores the government’s attempt to conceal the magnitude of the massacre of 1967 and to erase the evidence, but the narrator’s voice affirms the power of memory to remember and expose the truth.[13] The film then returns to its opening scene, a strategy that reflects Sanjinés’ desire to express the Indians’ cyclical understanding of time and history. Once again, the large crowd of miners and Indians advances towards the screen, carrying the Bolivian flag –denoting that they are the true embodiment of the nation– but this time they are not gunned down. Instead, they parade past the edges of the frame in all their glory and pride towards victory and a new day of justice and equality.



[1]   ”Por su propia esterilización cultural permitía la esterilización física del pueblo boliviano.” Jorge Sanjinés, Teor­ía y práctica de un cine junto al pueblo (México, DF: Siglo XXI, 1979), 18.


[2] At his foundation in 1961, the Ukamau group consisted of Sanjinés, who took on the directorial duties; screenwriter Oscar Soria; cameraman Antonio Equino; and Ricardo Rada and Alberto Villapando, who helped produce the films. Sanjinés’ predilection for working in a team stemmed from his admiration of Soviet revolutionary cinema, especially the work of Dziga Vertov. Similar experiments in collective filmmaking were also taking place in Europe in the 1960s; in 1968, for instance, Godard established the Dziga-Vertov’s group, which wanted to apply socialist ideals to the practice of filmmaking.


[3] “Lo que pasó con El coraje del pueblo, p.e., se hizo por que en una noticia de prensa de 1970, salía una noticia de la masacre de San Juan, una pequeña columna donde se decía que hubo un muerto a raíz de una disputa entre los obreros y un policía, y nadie dijo nada, nadie reclamó. Entonces nos llamó mucho la atención y dijimos que lo que pasó ahí no solamente es una masacre, sino que también había un trasfondo político importante que no se podía negar. Ese hecho había que recogerlo, pero ¿quién lo podía hacer? ¿la televisión...? ¿la radio...? no!!!, todos estaban censurados. Tampoco fue fácil para el cine, por que esa película se hizo en el año 1971, pero no pudo mostrarse sino hasta 1978. Esa es una etapa de enfrentamiento, de denuncia de las situaciones político–sociales. Luego, se abre la democracia, y entonces nosotros tenemos posibilidades distintas.” Diego A. Mondaca, “Entrevista con Sanjinés. Cine pensando para la juventud,” 21 December 2003, (May 24, 2003), 2.


[4]   “El cine se convierte tal vez en el único recurso de recogimiento de la memoria porque los otros medios están controlados, anulados.” Mondaca, 2.


[5] Sanjinés, 23. This commitment to verisimilitude led Sanjinés to shoot the massacre of San Juan with low lighting levels, which makes it difficult for the viewer to discern the performers, but realistically captures what it must have looked like at the time.


[6] “No hacemos más cine para la burguesía.” Sanjinés, 123.


[7] Glauber Rocha, en un análisis correcto sobre este tipo de cine, decía que es un cine que se queda en los efectos y no llega a profundizar en las causas.…porque su forma se lo impedirá.” Sanjinés, 78.


[8] María Barzola, the Indian woman who led the Cataví demonstration and survived, appears in Sanjinés’ film once again at the head of the strikers, holding a large flag in her hands.


[9] “Es necesario también obtener [del espectador] su entrega subjetiva, solicitar su emotividad para hacerlo solidario, hacer que se identifique con el plano humano haciéndole participar de los eventos que ve, obligándole a entender un problema a través de su propia experiencia.” Ibid, 107.


[10] “Una sociedad necesita mirarse a los espejos del arte para poder comprenderse. Eso solo puede dar el arte. Esos distraccionismos del arte por el arte, de que el arte no debe mezclarse con lo político, es un absurdo total. Todo acto social es un acto político, y todo acto trascendente en la sociedad es un hecho político, por tanto, el arte es indispensable para la construcción de una sociedad.” Mondaca, 3.




[12] Sanjinés has said: “[Bolivia] es una sociedad que se miente a si misma. Por lo tanto, un cine que devuelve verdades históricas nos parece importante para la gente joven, no solamente porque ahí pueden encontrar referencias confiables, históricas, sino también porque es un cine que hace un llamado a respetar y a atender a esa otredad con la que convivimos, que son los indios quechuas, aymaras, tupí guranies, etc. Nosotros hemos trabajado con los quechuas y aymaras porque es lo que conocemos mejor. Pero ese inacabado que tenemos es parte de ese desentendimiento, de esa segregación, de esa exclusión que se ha hecho de parte importantísima de la sociedad boliviana, de la mayor parte de la población del país. La gente joven debe aprender a mirar a la otredad, a los otros bolivianos, a las otras culturas con respeto y admiración.... [E]l resto de nosotros tenemos mucho que aprender de esas culturas para poder construir una nación orgánica.” Mondaca, 3.


[13] The voiceover narrator says: “Se ha cuidado de hacer desaparecer los vestigios. Las cruces pintadas en las puertas y paredes de los edificios con la misma sangre de las víctimas han sido borradas, y han destruido las cruces plantadas en caminos y riachuelos donde encontraron a los cuerpos ya sin vida. Se han desparramado por todo el país los huérfanos pensando que así se podría borrar la memoria de un genocidio de tal magnitud, pero la memoria sigue viva en los testigos y las memorias de los sobrevivientes. No olvidaremos a los responsables.”





Burton Carvajal, Julianne. “Jorge Sanjinés. Revolutionary Cinema: The Bolivian Experience” in Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.


Ferrari, Sergio. “Jorge Sanjinés: “El poder no quiere entender esa otra Bolivia,” 9 April 2003, Nuestra America.Info,, (May 25, 2003)



Sanjinés, Jorge. “Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema” in Michael T. Martin, ed. The New Latin American Cinema: Theory, Practices and Transcontinental Articulations, vol. 1. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.


----. Theory and Practice of a Cinema with the People, trans. Richard Schaaf. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.







Burton Carvajal, Julianne. “Jorge Sanjinés. Revolutionary Cinema: The Bolivian Experience” in Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.


Ferrari, Sergio. “Jorge Sanjinés: “El poder no quiere entender esa otra Bolivia,” 9 April 2003, Nuestra America.Info,, (May 25, 2003)



Sanjinés, Jorge. “Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema” in Michael T. Martin, ed. The New Latin American Cinema: Theory, Practices and Transcontinental Articulations, vol. 1. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.


----. Theory and Practice of a Cinema with the People, trans. Richard Schaaf. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.