After a two-year COVID pause, The Montreal First Peoples Festival was back on the streets, stages, and in theatres from August 9-18, 2022. The Festival has long included Indigenous films as a main Festival presentation and has established a reputation for programming Indigenous focused films hailing from across Turtle Island and the Americas. As a MUSKRAT Editor and a filmmaker myself, I attended the Festival both as an artist—with my short film, Mammoth Bone programmed in the Festival—and to provide coverage for our readers! Mammoth Bone is a 6min experimental short exploration of engaging filmmaking processes as both medicine, ceremony and internal investigation. It preceded the Bolivian feature film, El Gran Movimiento [The Great Movement] written and directed by Kiro Russo, released in 2021.
El Gran Movimiento won the Best Cinematography category by the Montreal First Peoples Festival jury, a recognition that is greatly deserved. Based in the bustling and seemingly ancient city of La Paz, the film shows the magnitudes of the bustling, sprawling city and its arteries of streets embedded within ancient stone foundations, and the ominous mountain presence upon which the city is built. Russo and cinematographer Pablo Paniagua utilize powerful lenses that pull the viewer in a verité style where one first feels the massive and chaotic structure of the city perched upon a perceived unforgiving landscape, to the eventual deep, small, dark crevice where multiple human and spiritual dramas unfurl and bring light.
The dramatic mountain cliffs and boulders appear to witness the story unfolding with both the city and mountain landscape becoming characters in their own right. Russo reveals the spirit of the city itself expressed by obscure perspectives such as through the distorted reflection on the metal work of the gondola, that is the city’s transportation system suited to its plunging landscape. It is within this distorted and highly observational prism that we follow our main characters who engage the city in an ever-evolving quest and balance of protest, hard alienation and poverty, where life, abundance, and healing also hold power.
The story of El Gran Movimiento is Kiro Russo’s expansion of the same character, Elder Mamani, played by Julio César Ticona, who first appeared in ‘Dark Skull’ in 2016. According to Poore in Latino Life, in Russo’s first feature, when Elder’s father dies, Elder moves to live with his grandmother in a mining village. There he is given a job in the mine, replacing his father. However, his subsequent chaotic behaviour is so reckless that it leads him to be removed from the mine following a petition by his fellow workers.
In the film, ‘The Great Movement’, Elder and two work colleagues, Gallo (Israel Hurtado) and Gato (Gustavo Milán Ticona), now unemployed, walk to La Paz, a journey that takes them a week, to join a protest of miners demanding their jobs back. While they look for temporary work in the local market, Elder is slowly ailing with a mysterious pulmonary sickness that doctors cannot identify. A grandmother character, Mama Pancha/Mother Earth (Francisca Arce de Aro) introduces herself as Elder’s godmother and begins to take care of him -although he cannot remember ever having met her. Mama Pancha sends him to Max, a mysterious street-shaman who resides in the rainforest and occasionally heads to La Paz for work as a street performer.
The cinematic journey and themes explored in the non-linear story make El Gran Movimiento stand on its own. The film is both an observational and sound journey that strives to transport the viewer into the depths of La Paz and the ancient Bolivian people whose powers are based on their continued connection to land- also deeply carved into the trenches of the city.
SPANISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES
Dir. Kiro Russo