Collecting ‘video indígena’: Engaging Indigenous Knowledges in a Changing Mediascape (2014)

Tuesday May 21, 2013, 10:30-12 PM

Moderator: Paloma Celis Carbajal, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Rapporteur: Michael Scott, Georgetown University


  • Nomadic/sporadic: the Pathways of Circulation of 'Indigenous Video' in Latin America Amalia Córdova - NYU Cinema Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies-CLACS
  • Sistematización de la experiencia audiovisual de las comunidades wayuu aledañas al Rio Socuy David Hernandez Palmar - Realizador Audiovisual Wayuu
  • Independent Filmmaking & Distribution Amid An Evolving Digital Rights Landscape Nicole Karsin - Todos Los Pueblos Productions LLC; Producer & Director of We Women Warriors (Tejiendo Sabiduría)
  • Engaging video indígena in Academic Libraries, Daisy V. Domínguez - The City College of New York, CUNY, New York City

The order of the panel was in a different order than in the printed conference program.

Engaging “video indígena” in Academic Libraries - Daisy V. Domínguez, CUNY City College (starts around 9:24)

Domínguez began her presentation by talking about various scholarly definitions of video indígena. She stated that there is a great diversity within the genre, including: documentaries, dramas, comedies, etc. There is also variety in the amount of financial support. The Mexican government heavily supports video indígena, and in Bolivia, indigenous filmmakers are often refused government support, although they do sometimes receive foreign funding.  Some Bolivian filmmakers consider the entire process of making video indígena to be more important part than the end product. Using this as a basis in her presentation, Domínguez hoped to demonstrate how librarians can be part of the process helping to create and distribute video indígena.

In the first part of her presentation, Domínguez highlighted some of the challenges of collecting the genre. There may be some mistrust on the part of the filmmaker towards the researcher. The researcher often makes the assumption that indigenous knowledge can become part of her or his institution, without considering cultural and historical dynamics that may not be appropriate for scholarly dissemination and teaching. Another challenge is that it is often not profit-driven even though some filmmakers may seek wider distribution, so the actual acquisition may be difficult because of these distribution problems. For example, some Bolivian filmmakers from CAIB have achieved heightened distribution and fame because their connections with professors in the United States enable them to forgo more traditional routes of promotion and distribution. Some researchers offer translation services in exchange for the films, which allows the filmmakers to diverge from the traditional market system yet still have their films widely distributed.

Domínguez then shifted the focus of her talk to how to start collection video indígena and maintains currency in the genre. By introducing oneself at film festivals or even organizing your institution’s own film festival and searches, it is possible to create and maintain professional relationships that will ease the challenges of collection development. Working directly with the filmmakers themselves also avoids the traditional methods of production and distribution and opens a space for offering translations of the film or other services. Angela Carreño of NYU, for example, worked with filmmakers on the preservation of indigenous film during the First Nations/First Features Showcase in May 2005. Some of the filmmakers were hesitant to work with North Americans to help distribute and preserve their films, and this is why the project did not move forward at the time. More recent approaches include working with organizations in filmmakers’ home countries (Chiapas Media Project, etc.) rather than work with those based in North America.

For example, Third World Newsreel recently negotiated in the United States to promote and distribute the work of  CEFREC ( and CAIB in Bolivia, which together act as a means to educate new filmmakers and also advise and promote the genre both with and outside of the country. Negotiations for this began at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Biennial Film and Video Festival, which highlights the importance of creating these direct and personal relationships with the filmmakers themselves.

Yolanda Cruz, founder of Petate Productions, is an example of the diverse approaches of filmmaking and distribution within video indígena. She is a graduate of UCLA’s film school, and has negotiated her films to be distributed via Netflix, PBS, etc., and even in Russian translation.

One final challenge is cataloging video indígena. There are often no genre headings that reflect the indigenous aspect of the film, such as a “video letters,” which does appear. Netflix does not have subject divisions that reflect video indígena as a genre; Yolanda Cruz’s 2501 Migrants, for example, is classified as a Mexican/Latin American documentary, with no reference to the indigenous aspect of the film.TheLibrary of Congress Subject Headings list includes subject headings dealing with indigenous themes, but not necessarily films made by indigenous filmmakers. Catalog librarians can help by proposing these headings to the Library of Congress.  Finally, Domínguez finished by reflecting on how she became interested in the genre after learning Quechua and starting her blog on the genre and translating her reviews into Spanish. She ended her presentation by showing a humorous clip from the Bolivian Quechua-language film Llanthupi Munakuy/Loving Each Other in the Shadows

Independent Filmmaking & Distribution Amid an Evolving Digital Rights Landscape - Nicole Karsin, Todos Los Pueblos Productions LLC

The next presenter was Nicole Karsin, director of the documentary We Women Warriors/Tejiendo sabiduría. She began by showing a 10-minute clip of the film, which is about three women who use nonviolent means to face the violence in Colombia. Karsin continued by discussing the difficulties of filming and distributing video indígena. She began by discussing the two different models that Domínguez presented, one more community and grassroots focused (Chiapas Media Project) and the other more commercial and traditional (Yolanda Cruz.) Karsin stated that she aligns herself more with the latter model. While she relied on the local communities for advice on safety issues and the like, she kept the artistic vision to herself instead of approaching in a more communitarian way.

Karsin continued that she understands the difficulty of community-based groups to obtain publicity and distribution in the United States because American broadcasting standards are high and often out of their economic reach.

It took seven years to finish We Women Warriors/Tejiendo sabiduría,  and funding always was an issue. But by chance Karsin happened to move back to Los Angeles for family reasons, and she began post-production work there at Documentary Lab. Through the connections she made in Los Angeles, she was able to finish the film in the best way she thought possible. These connections would likely not have been feasible had she tried to complete the film in Latin America.

Because of the move towards a more digital world, artistic rights and distribution channels are rapidly changing. Karsin mentioned Peter Broderick, owner of Paradigm Consulting, as a kind of distribution “guru.” Broderick believes there are two forms of distribution: the old model, which involves selling your rights to a North American company and having them take care of the rest, and the new model, which involves dividing up the rights into different forms of distribution (education, commercial, etc.) This way you can have revenue to live one while you complete your next film. When Karsin received her first distribution offer, she thought it sounded unfair after seven years of hard work. Indigenous video is growing in importance and popularity and we must find new ways to efficiently and fairly cover this current rights and distribution gap.

Sistematización de la experiencia audiovisual de las comunidades wayuu aledañas al Rio Socuy - David Hernández Wayuu, Director, Audiovisual Wayuu

David Hernández is a Venezuelan photographer, journalist, and documentary film producer/director who works particularly on documentaries about the Wayuu people. He began his talk by describing the current situation for the Wayuu people that live along the Rio Socuy, which is in the state of Zulia in northwestern Venezuela. The river was exploited by coal and oil companies, and as a result, was a major contributor to the pollution in Lake Maracaibo, which is no longer safe for swimming. In his work, Hernández has shown the Wayuu’s fight for land ownership and industrial regulation along the river. Video indígena is one way for the Other to declare autonomy and political action.

For Hernández, there are three parts to audiovisual media. The first is the creation of the work, the filming, and then the screening.  He also noted that the best way to spread knowledge about the film is through film festivals, museum, and libraries rather than through the more traditional commercial routes. The film’s audience is also very important; how many indigenous people actually see the final film? The film is about its audience as much as its subject.

Hernández also emphasized the importance of indigenous languages in video indígena. Castilian is often a second language for many indigenous people, and only using it leads to hegemony rather than true indigenismo. Countries that promote multilingualism are giving political agency to indigenous peoples.

He continued on to discuss the politics of aesthetics in filmmaking. Where is the camera located? What is the angle being used? These kinds of questions can help us realize the political perspective of the film.

The adjective “comunitario” is often used in conjunction with the genre, but even then there is too much emphasis on the director and producer, which comes closer to the hegemonic concept of “cinema.” Filmmakers need to use newer technologies to allow for truly “comunitario” way of creating video indígena. For example, it used to require many people to shoot underwater, but it now takes a case for the camera and nothing else (thus opening up the ability to shift perspective.) For his own work, people ask to clarify what genre a work belongs to; Hernández does not like to discuss this, he focuses on creating.

The question of accessibility is central to the future of video indígena. What is in the genre’s archive, how many are there, and how many are actually able to be projected? Filmmakers depend on libraries and museums for the preservation and conservation for the future and, more importantly, for the indigenous communities themselves.

The audiovisual result represents the people as much as a the oral tradition or a written text, and must be transmitted as such. These films can help all oppressed peoples in the name of gender, sexual, and ethnic and racial diversity. Essentially it becomes a new model of civilization and a new social discourse, making invisible people visible.

Nomadic/Sporadic: the Pathways of Circulation of “Indigenous Video” in Latin America - Amalia Córdova, NYU

Amalia Córdova began her talk by presenting a short history of video indígena. The traditional way of organizing film studies into genre and country does not fit with indigenous video; as it has always been transnational. There were some local and regional movements in the 1970s, based in the “New Latin American Cinema,” of authentic and “imperfect,” socially-committed film, and also in the growing number of pan-indigenous movements. The first Native American Film and Video Festival took place in New York at the Smithsonian in 1979, which led to the creation of the Film and Video Center, the first archive of early indigenous films. The genre took off with the 500th anniversary of the Encounter, when there were many video projects in response to the dominant discourse of Columbus as a “discoverer.”

In 1985, the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas was created in Mexico City, although it is now based Santiago de Chile. It was founded by concerned and already-established documentarians, but is now completely run by indigenous people. Latin American governments also took place in creating video indígena, such Mexico’s “Transferencia de Medios Audiovisuales a Organizaciones y Comunidades Indígenas” (founded 1990) and Brazil’s “Video nas aldeias” (founded 1987.)

Next Córdova displayed a poster from a 1996 CLACPI film festival in Bolivia, which was the first festival in which a training program was launched as well; these developments take a long time. Even CLACPI has had to ask about the definition of indigenous video. It is a process. For CLACPI, it is largely the community that defines the genre, and an individual’s interaction with that community. It is meant to highlight the political, social, and cultural agendas of indigenous people, and requires the active participation of all those who appear on-screen.

The process itself is what makes video indígena difficult. They are usually documentaries and political in nature, as indigenous peoples have been displaced and oppressed for so long. Usually the films are in indigenous languages, and negotiating translation into Spanish can be understandably difficult and sometimes not possible. Often the films result from a workshop and are “imperfect” in the common way of thinking about aesthetics. Indigenous film and video often contain many points of view from the community. There is also often hybridity in the actual film; archival footage mixed with newly shot film, docudrama, musicals, etc.

Copyright can also be an issue; in many cases no one really “owns” an indigenous work, therefore negotiations for distribution and rights must be held in conjunction with the entire community. Sometimes the wishes of the subject must also be reciprocated; what does the “outsider” filmmaker bring to the community by making the film? Many filmmakers also work with local and non-commercial forms of distribution instead of more commercial routes. Different versions of the same film may also be created; some things in the film may be meant only for those in the community itself.

Next, Córdova showed a chart meant to clarify some of the particularities of obtaining indigenous video. It is best to start where you first heard of the film (film festival, website catalog, etc.) and then work from there (webmaster, festival organizer, etc.) Phone calls work well (as opposed to e-mail.) You can also help with improving the translations in exchange for the rights to display the film. Find other people to work with on campus. Finally, payment needs to be figured out as well. NYU has a form that explains all of these very clearly, just as an example. Also work with non-profit organizations and distributors as well as independent filmmakers to collect and promote video indígena.

“Video nas aldeias” has a set of 5 DVDs for sale, a simple example of easily attainable video indígena. CLACPI has created a series of DVD sets of the award-winning films from their festivals, so that the process from theatrical showings to video is easier for all involved. Festivals are essentially the channels in which indigenous films are being distributed. There is also an archive in La Paz that sends out films, culminating in the CLACPI festival in Spain.

The Smithsonian Native American Film and Video Festival is currently on hold because of some financial complications, but it did include an indigenous selector for the films. Córdova also provided a list of festivals, some of which were not explicitly indigenous, but all included some films made by and for indigenous filmmakers. There is great interest in increasing accessibility to video indígena, so seek help from people like the presenters at the talk today.


Jesus Alonso-Regalado (SUNY Albany): to Amalia Córdova: Can you share the information from today? A: Yes To Nicole Karsin: Many producers/directors use Vimeo to submit their work. Why is this as opposed to YouTube, etc.? A: Vimeo has better quality and has better privacy controls (password protected, etc.) Easier and more efficient to simply provide link for a festival submission instead of a DVD.

Librarian from IADB: Q: IADB does provide funding for films. Why not use them for funding? A (by Amalia Córdova): The problem is the word “development.” The indigenous video movement is careful about funding. But Petrobras, for example, is funding all the video work in Brazil. A (by David Hernández): Some organizations use this funding as a way to infiltrate their destructive agenda in these communities, so the filmmakers are very careful.  The issue is how to pay it back.

Lynn Shirey (Harvard): Bolivian director Jorge Sanjinés’s DVDs are difficult to get, and it is often difficult to even see his films at all. Can you tell us more about that? A (Amalia Córdova): The director questions the Hollywood forms of production and distribution, and he must either be present at the showing, or the film festival must be indigenous-focused. He avoid the commodification of his work.

Paloma Celis Carbajal (UW-Madison): Has anyone on the panel ever wanted to just upload a film online and have it “open source”? A kind of portal that will provide these films for free? A (Amalia Córdova): There is a portal that does this, Isuma TV.  The problem is sustainability: server space, translation, technology, etc. But even the upload can be difficult, depending on local technology. A: (David Hernández): Isuma TV is a great portal, but there needs to be more participation on all sides. In 2015 there will be a documentary film festival in Caracas, and a summit of indigenous filmmakers in Fortaleza. The key is accessibility.