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Bolivian Film Industry – Then and Now

Jan 2016

Bolivian Film Industry – Then and Now

Bolivia has a rich and long history of film-making. Despite the presence of infrastructural, social and economic challenges, the film-makers of Bolivia have been producing feature-length movies since 1920. The first motion picture of Bolivia was Retrato de personajes historicos y de actualidad which was released in 1904. The first colour film of the country was Donde nace un imperio (1957). So far, Bolivia has sent seven movies for Academy Awards for best foreign language film.


Some of the most influential directors of Bolivian cinema are José Velasco Maidana, Jorge Ruiz and Jorge Sanjinés.

Velasco Maidana was a musician and director who had directed some of the classics of Bolivian cinema, including the classic Wara Wara in 1930. Like most of the movies of the silent era, unfortunately, other significant works of Maidana were lost and are yet to be found.

Jorge Ruiz is one of the phenomenal documentary directors of Bolivian cinema. During his four decade long work life, he completed more than 20 critically acclaimed movies including his most significant work Vuelve Sebastiana (1953).

Jorge Sanjinés is another dominating figure in Bolivian cinema. His overpowering influence (through both his films and numerous essays and articles) is indirectly felt even today. Political in nature, his oeuvre includes at least four classics of Latin American cinema: Ukamau (And So It Is, 1966), Yawar Mallku (Blood of the Condor, 1969), El coraje del pueblo (The Courage of the People, 1971) and La nación clandestina (The Clandestine Nation, 1989).

Despite the fine qualities of the films, movie making is considered a challenging task in the country, mainly due to technical and infrastructural shortcomings. Filming a movie in Bolivia, as the critic Pedro Susz wrote some years ago, is equivalent to trying to build the Concorde airplane in a car garage. Due to such difficulties for a long period of time, usually making of more than one or two feature-length movies were not possible on yearly basis.

Impactful changes in Bolivian film industry during 1990-2010 period:

Bolivian film industry had undergone some radical changes during the last two decades due to two key outside factors. First key factor was the rise of new generation of filmmakers who have received formal training from elite class film institutes all around the globe. And the second one was the implementation of digitalized computer technologies for special effects and editing. These two factors combined, contributed to the exponential growth of film industry of Bolivia. In 2010 alone nearly a dozen feature-length movies were produced (where the historical average was close to one or two movies per year maximum).

Recent Bolivian films could be grouped in three main categories. First, the films that try a direct description of social problems like immigration to the First World, drug trafficking, corruption, class violence etc. Second, films that demonstrate a desire to explore genres and commercial formulas: comedies, more road movies, action movies etc. And, finally, there is an emergence of films strongly marked by the voice and style of the director. Bolivian cinema continues to be highly political, although not in the same manner as its predecessors.

Bolivia had submitted their first entry for the Academy Award for best Foreign Language movie, Jonah and the Pink Whale, in 1995. The film was directed by one of the finest modern directors of Bolivian cinema, Juan Carlos Valdivia. Juan also directed American Visa and Zona Sur, another two Bolivian entries for subsequent Academy Awards.

Eduardo Lopez, continues to enrich one of the neglected parts of Bolivian cinema – documentaries. Like many contemporary world documentary films, his Inalmama (2010) aspires to a certain free style. Lopez himself defines his movie as “a political, visual and musical essay about the coca leaf and cocaine in Bolivia.”

Significant movies of Bolivian film industry:

Wara_Wara-157076166-largeWara Wara (1930): Wara Wara is a silent era classic and directed by José Velasco Maidana in 1930. The movie is based on the themes of historical drama and romance. The film is named for the eponymous main character, Inca princess Wara Wara (played by Juanita Taillansier). Set in the 16th century, it is a “historical narrative of the Spanish conquest of Qullasuyu”, the Aymara territories of the Inca Empire. The film was considered to be lost, but in 1989 it was recovered and after restoration, screened for a new “premiere” in September 2010.





Jonah and Pink Whale (1995): Jonah and Pink Whale is the Bolivian entry for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language film category in 1995. The film was based on the 1987 novel by Montes Vannuci and was directed by famous director Juan Carlos Valdivia. The plot revolves around the life of a upper class citizen Jonas and his romantic interests towards his sister-in –law. Dino Garcia and Maria Renee prudencio played pivotal roles in the film.


Zona sur, bolivia, ikbf, book fair, boimelaSouth District or Zona Sur (2009)Zona Sur is also directed by Juan Carlos Valdivia and was the official entry of Bolivia for Academy Award in the year 2009.The plot centers around a wealthy, white Bolivian divorcee who is living beyond her means in contemporary Bolivia, and her relationship with her three spoilt children and her two Aymara servants. Valdivia constructs Zona Sur from a series of observations or self-sufficient scenes that patiently complete a family and class portrait. Zona sur is considered by some critic as the best work of Valdivia as well as a classic of Bolivian cinema.

Apart from these, some of finest movies of Bolivian cinema are;”The old people(2011), “Once upon a time in Bolivia”(2013), “American Visa”(2005), “Mi social”(1982), “Ukamau(1966) ,”Mina Alaska”(1968) etc. Most works of silent era, were lost so we have a limited knowledge about the films and industry of that time.


Final thoughts:

Bolivia has a rich tradition of telling compelling stories through fascinating movies despite all the difficulties. But fortunately, making a movie in Bolivia may no longer be the impossible adventure it was considered to be some years ago. Modern film-makers are trying to experiment with plots and genres which will certainly benefit the Bolivian film industry in future.

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