A community of indigenous people accepted a government offer to return to their land, stolen from the Indians in the 1870s. The film looks through the eyes of the children to enter a world in which modern technology and ancient mythologies populate their minds. And the Puma lurks as a target and a presence.
The director’s fascination with this indigenous community began in 2015, when he first visited them while researching the period in Argentine history known as The Conquest of the Desert.
In the 1870s, the army went on a rampage exterminating the indigenous people and stealing their land.
The immediate reasons for this were in response to the killing of settlers by the Mapuche Indians whose land was being occupied by Europeans.
But as a background, the Argentine Government wanted to finally establish their control of the Pampa against possible moves by Chile. And at the same time the first Great Depression in 1873 was hurting Argentina’s economy, so grabbing more agricultural land looked attractive.
The discourse of that time was all about progress and the future, and destruction of ancestral culture – and in Yanco’s film we see the incongruous residues of that conflict that now exist in the country.
These indigenous families whose culture stretches back centuries before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, are living in what seem futuristic houses designed by an architect to incorporate traditional styles. After living in an urban environment for many years they return to the Pampa with all the gadgets of modernity – a mobile phone records birdsong, making hunting them easier. Their current situation is thus also the ‘staging of an idea’ of indigenous life, as he said in another interview.
“La vida en común” focuses on the children because in them he sees a more direct awareness of the mythological dimension of their lives in a terrain where the Puma still roams.
I caught up with the director at the Visions du Reel Festival in Nyon, Switzerland. Ezequiel Yanco talked to The Prisma.
Ezequiel YancoThis film and your previous one, “Days”, both focus on children, is that a coincidence?
No, Initially I was interested in the life of their community, but when I got to know the young people, they turned out to be the best contacts for making the film.
Were you born in this region of the Pampa?
No, I’m from Buenos Aires, but I was interested in the region because it was where the Conquest of the Desert happened, when the colonizers killed the indigenous people and stole their land in the 19th Century. So, my project was to understand how the indigenous people live today in that region.
In the Q&A you mentioned that the community lives in 24 houses provided by the provincial government. Were they already living there?
That’s interesting because the houses were designed by an architect in the traditional style of indigenous houses, and the land was given to them by the provincial government. The community is called Ranqueles, and the people were living in nearby cities, like San Luis, before they moved there, eight years ago. And the interesting thing is that their previous experience is not of a traditional life, they were used to living in cities, working in factories and modern life.
I noticed how they were recording bird songs and then playing them on their mobile phones in order to catch them!
Yes, and it is this mixture of modern and traditional that I wanted to record by making a film.
How were the people chosen, how did they find out about the offer of forming a community?
The provincial government contacted community organizations in the nearby cities, and this group of people, who are from inter-related families decided to move together.
Has it been a success?
To begin with there were a lot of problems of organization, and one of their chiefs (Caciques) stole a lot of money and ran off. And in the film, I try to show these political conflicts through the eyes of the children:
The whole film seems to be through their eyes – why didn’t the adults take more part?
I wanted to show the life of the community both in a documentary and a fictional way, through the presence of the Puma.
Did the parents not want to be in the picture?
It wasn’t that, I thought the children were better able to catch the atmosphere of the place, I found them more interesting.
Were the adults happy for you to make a film in their community?
At the beginning everyone was very excited by the project, but the children got tired and they didn’t understand why I needed to re-shoot some scenes. Uriel, the main character was a really good partner in making the film, because he wanted to learn about film-making and he helped me a lot to understand their life.
Did these people have a marginal life in the city, of San Luis?
San Luis is the province, the town is Pueblo Nación Ranquel. They had a stable life, with an income from the state, but the indigenous people had lost their lands and they asked the state to return them. The land has been owned by various private groups, so the state had to intervene to restore it to the indigenous people.
Is there a lot of prejudice against indigenous people in the cities?
In general, I can’t say, but in this particular area, no there isn’t.
Talking about the puma – it seems to have a mythological role in their imagination, part enemy part friend – but then you see them trying to shoot a female, which would mean the cubs will die. Are they aware of the ecological problem?
The puma is a real animal, but in the film, it is more a fictional element that I could use as a focus for the film. Some of the children identify with the puma, it’s a real and also a mythological element. I didn’t want to idealize the situation, there are real social conflicts going on, it isn’t a paradise, but still the children can identify with this animal.
I was very impressed by the architecture of the houses.
It is one of the protagonists of the film. It is a traditional design, so it evokes the history of the indigenous people, even while their daily lives are quite modern.
I chose the location for the mise-en-scene.
Who built the houses?
What’s your next project?
After I finish shooting in San Luis, I want to return to the Pampa. To a place that was a reserve for aristocrats to hunt deer. It’s the same mixture of the present and the past – in this case the Conquest of the Desert.
Do you like hunting?
No, not really, but it’s part of life in this area.