From Columbus to Bolivian ‘water wars’, film review

This is the Spanish language trailer, with English subtitles, of the film Even the Rain.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Toronto International Film Festival 2010—Part 3

Even the Rain and the need for dealing with complexity

1 October 2010

This is the third of a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto film festival (September 9-19). Part 1 was published on September 23 and Part 2 on September 28 .

Even the Rain (Tambien la lluvia), from director Icíar Bollaín (Spain) and screenwriter Paul Laverty (Britain), was one of the most serious and complicated films screened at the Toronto film festival. It takes on significant questions of history and contemporary social life, as well as artistic and human responsibility.

The film is set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, during the so-called “Water wars,” the struggle against the privatization of water, in 2000. A Spanish film crew has arrived in the area to make a film about Christopher Columbus and his encounter with the indigenous peoples of the “New World.”

The effective opening scene sets the stage. The production, at the behest of the youthful director, Sebastián (Gael García Bernal), has blithely advertised an “open casting” and hundreds of local people have lined up, waiting in some cases for hours. When the filmmakers, having chosen the people they need, try and dismiss the rest of the crowd, trouble erupts. One “ringleader” in particular insists, “You have to see us!” The director gives in, and eventually casts the troublemaker, Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), as a leader of the indigenous resistance to Columbus, despite the misgivings of the hard-bitten producer, Costa (Luis Tosar).

The company has chosen Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, although the indigenous people are the “wrong” ones from the historical point of view, for economic reasons. Extras earn only $2 a day here, Costa boasts over the telephone to one of the film’s financial backers in the US.

Sebastián has ambitious plans. He centers his film on Bartolome de las Casas (Carlos Santos), a Dominican priest horrified by the Spaniards’ treatment of the native peoples, and Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos (Raúl Arévalo), the first to denounce the practices openly, in 1511. Montesinos declared in a sermon delivered on Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) that the Spanish on the island were “all in mortal sin and live and die in it, because of the cruelty and tyranny they practice among these innocent peoples.”

The production within the production as well involves shooting complicated scenes of confrontation and brutality, including the crucifixion of Indian rebels, set deep in the jungle.

Difficulties arise in filming the Columbus movie, and some sequences prove impossible. More threatening to the crew, however, is the outbreak of social protest in the area, as the local people oppose the privatizing of their water supply and price increases of 300 percent. “They steal, sell everything…even the rain.” Daniel becomes a leader of the protests. The filmmakers beg and try to bribe him to remain out of the demonstrations, which involve battles with the police, until the shooting is completed. He apparently agrees, but his commitment leads him to get arrested. In an effort to release him, Sebastián and Costa negotiate with the cops.

The situation in the area, popular blockades and police-military violence, leading to bitter street fighting in Cochabamba, makes going on with the film almost impossible. The backers are jumping ship. Most of the actors want to leave. Sebastián implores them to continue, arguing that protests come and go, but his film, with its demystification of history, will endure forever. His Columbus (Karra Elejalde), a middle-aged actor who drinks too much and has been a constant critic of the director and his hubris, is one of the few who sticks with it. The cynical Costa has a difficult decision to make when Daniel’s wife begs him to help her daughter, wounded in the police attacks.

Neoliberal policies “which have fed the growing political disaffection of Bolivia’s majority poor, have helped fuel the country’s rolling ‘social revolution.'” This was how a May 6, 2006, US embassy cable from La Paz recently released by WikiLeaks viewed the powerful wave of struggle that led to the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005: here.

One of the most popular products exported from New Zealand has been the atmospheric Lord of the Rings films. They invoke images of a far off land called Middle Earth complete with massive mountains, panoramic landscapes, and furry wee Hobbits fighting the evil Dark Lord. The next film based in the same fantasy world, The Hobbit, is to be shot in NZ next year. NZ Actors Equity, the union for actors in NZ, has called upon international actors unions to black the film production. Blacking is a refusal by workers to work on a particular project, in this case a film. The International Federation of Actors have agreed, and so unions like the Canadian Actors Equity, US Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, UK Actors Equity, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA, Australia) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio have boycotted the film: here.

Christopher Columbus didn’t know where he was going when he set out and he didn’t know where he had been when he got back. But was Amerigo Vespucci, who died 500 years ago today and after whom America was named, any better informed? Here.

Three Artists’ Radically Different Takes on Christopher Columbus Discovering America: here.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the incoming U.S. representative from New York City, has proposed taking Columbus Day off the federal holiday list and replacing it with Election Day.

42 thoughts on “From Columbus to Bolivian ‘water wars’, film review

  1. Anglian Water boss scores £10m payout

    Pension Payout: The GMB union responded with anger today to the news that Anglian Water boss Johnson Cox has left the company with a payout of £10 million, according to accounts filed with Companies House.

    According to the union, the payout was funded by Anglian’s owners private equity firm 3i and three pension funds.

    GMB organiser Mick Ainsley said: “What is particularly galling and hard for GMB members to swallow is that earlier this year Anglian Water reduced the terms and conditions of water workers and made redundancies claiming poverty in light of the OFWAT determination to stick to the current five-year plan.”


  2. Morales suspends controversial road

    BOLIVIA: President Evo Morales ordered the suspension on Monday night of a planned Amazon highway that has sparked clashes between police and indigenous people who say the road would ruin a nature preserve that is home to their community.

    Mr Morales also distanced himself from the decision to break up a protest march on Sunday.

    His announcement came hours after police released hundreds of activists when mobs of local people blocked roads and an airport to prevent the detainees from being taken out of the area.

    “We repudiate the excesses yesterday at the march,” he said, adding that a high-level commission including international representatives should be formed to investigate the crackdown.

    See also here and here and here and here.

    Bolivian President Evo Morales has apologised for a brutal police crackdown on indigenous people protesting against a new Amazon motorway project.


  3. Pingback: Bolivia nationalizes electricity | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: English riots update | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: G4S mercenaries killed Australian Aboriginal elder | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: New Ken Loach movie on Iraq war | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: Sixteenth-century painting bought by museum | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: Swedish education privatisation failure | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: Rap, other music, and social change | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: Columbus’ Santa Maria ship discovered? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  11. Pingback: Detroit residents’ human right to water violated | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  12. Pingback: Latino eco-festival in Colorado, USA | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  13. Pingback: Irish anti-water charges demonstrations tomorrow | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  14. Pingback: ‘Name Madrid square after anti-fascist Jack Jones, not after Thatcher’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  15. Pingback: World Social Forum in Tunisia discusses TTIP | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  16. Pingback: Protecting nature in the Bahamas | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  17. Pingback: Big Irish water rights demonstration | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  18. Pingback: Puerto Rican interviewed on privatisation and protests | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  19. Pingback: Flint, USA water poisoning could have been prevented | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  20. Pingback: Extinct shellfish brought back to Europe by Vikings? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  21. Pingback: Ancient Mexican manuscript, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  22. Pingback: European Union pro-privatisation blackmail of Greece | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  23. Pingback: European Union promoting Third World privatisation | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  24. Pingback: Borneo environmental destruction, new film | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  25. Pingback: Hurricane Irma abused for austerity in Puerto Rico | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  26. Monday 9th October 2017

    Let us throw Christopher Columbus on the dust heap of history where he and his ilk belong, demands MICHELLE ZACARIAS

    TODAY marks the 80th official federal observance of Columbus Day in the United States.

    For decades, young children have been taught about Christopher Columbus and his “heroic” adventures in school, often reciting the old poem: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

    However, the reality is that Columbus’s legacy was far from heroic, as the “explorer” was not only a coloniser, but a murderous slave master who was sent on a suicide mission by Spain’s king and queen.

    Columbus was not, contrary to popular belief, attempting to prove the world was round. This claim was already hypothesised by mathematician Pythagoras at the start of the 6th century BC and was backed by Aristotle two centuries later.

    Columbus was, however, interested in spices, a product central to the European economy at the time.

    After years of attempting to convince the royals of Europe to fund his journey, with Portugal, England, and France all refusing, Columbus finally won over King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain.

    Though royal advisors warned against it, the couple believed that, were Columbus to succeed, they might gain access to rich minerals and resources. The royal couple gave Columbus a bare minimum of materials and a crew to plot his westward route to Asia.

    The explorer hoped his efforts would bring glory, fame, and gold. However, he highly miscalculated the distance of his route — by almost 10,000 miles.

    After months of travelling, Columbus and his crew landed in the Bahamian Island of Guanahani (which he named San Salvador), where they encountered the indigenous Taino people.

    Columbus and his men mistakenly assumed they had landed in an area of the East Indies and dubbed the indigenous inhabitants “Indians.”

    This landing was the kick-off to what would be a horrific massacre across the Caribbean, although the native Tainos did not know this yet.

    In diary entries detailed by Columbus himself, the conqueror described the natives as welcoming and hospitable. He noted that they never hesitated to share their resources and that they had skilled farmers and navigators.

    The explorer was eager to claim his newfound discovery and quickly “established” the Town of Isabella on Hispaniola, which was created on existing Taino territory.

    In the years following his initial journey, Columbus hit a number of nearby Caribbean islands, including the places that eventually became Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and even parts of South America.

    As a consequence, many of the existing indigenous tribes suffered great loss and bloodshed. The Taino people, whom scholars estimate may have numbered more than three million on Hispaniola alone, were nearly extinct by the end of Columbus’s reign.

    Once thriving and complex economies and social and political systems stood no match against the incoming flux of Spanish conquerors.

    Thousands of women and young girls were sold into sexual slavery, some as young as nine years of age. As recounted in Columbus’s own writings, “a hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

    Those that didn’t die from the diseases that the Spaniards brought over were put to work in gold mines.

    As for Columbus himself, his name wasn’t found in to many history books until 1828, when author Washington Irving wrote The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, which was a mostly fictional book that many misinterpreted as an autobiography.

    Then, between 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States, fleeing the rural poverty in Southern Italy and Sicily.

    Many of the incoming immigrants clung to the distorted tale of the “Italian-American hero,” as a reflection of their own immigrant stories, and by 1937, “Columbus Day” had become a national holiday.

    In reality, Columbus didn’t return to Spain as a hero. In fact, he was widely considered a disgrace.

    He was arrested in 1500 — brought back to Spain in chains due to his mismanagement of the island of Hispaniola — and was stripped of his governorship. Eventually, he managed to get a pardon from King Ferdinand II.

    As more people across the United States begin to acknowledge these atrocities and efforts to replace the outdated celebration with “Indigenous People’s Day” expand, we can reflect on all that was lost: the native stories that will never be told, the women and girls who were forced into horrific acts of sexual violence, and the ongoing erasure of violence against indigenous communities.

    Let us forget the monster who started it all, and throw Columbus in the dust heap of history where he belongs.


  27. Pingback: Extinct Caribbean mammals | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  28. Pingback: Taino ancestry in Puerto Rico, other islands | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  29. Pingback: Puerto Rican condemns post-Maria ‘disaster capitalism’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  30. Pingback: Puerto Rico, still no water, electricity | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  31. Pingback: Pre-Columbian Panamanians not as violent as claimed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  32. Pingback: Ecuadorian workers strike for Assange’s freedom, Galapagos | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  33. Pingback: Bermuda fireworms, why they glow | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  34. Pingback: Chilean regime kills, people don’t give up | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  35. Pingback: Dutch Chilean refugees on Piñera’s neo-Pinochetist bloodshed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  36. Pingback: Big pro-climate demonstrations in Spain, Chile | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  37. Pingback: Ancient Inca Pachacamac sculpture was coloured | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  38. Pingback: Botanical garden during coronavirus spring | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  39. Pingback: Trump wants corporate privatisation of space | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  40. Pingback: Anti-racism news update | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  41. Pingback: To racists, colonialist statues matter, lives don’t | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.