I was invited some years ago by my friend the anthropologist Juan Javier Rivera Andía to help him make a film about the isolated Canaris area in the northern Andes where he was doing long-term fieldwork. During the time he was working there, the local indigenous population lived under the shadow of the imminent development of a huge copper mine being promoted by a Canadian company, which had severely polarised the community. When we were unable to raise enough money to go back to film together, I suggested we could make an equally interesting work out of the videos he had made himself as part of his research.
The result is a five-screen installation which was exhibited in the old Waterschei coal mine in October 2013. The Owners of the Land uses the anthropologist’s visual archive to ask: does ‘land’ really belong to the people who live on it, or can national politicians and international corporations decide what to do with it without consulting anyone? What is the role of outsiders (mining companies, anthropologists, filmmakers…) in both the preservation and destruction of vernacular ways of life? Where should we draw the line between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’? And can we ever separate culture from politics, or are the two inextricably linked?
One of the films which made up the installation, We are going to record, is now distributed independently, and had its theatrical premiere at the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The Owners of the Land was produced by Coalface/Het Vervolg, and was made possible by a grant from the Flemish Ministry for Culture and Heritage.