sábado, 27 de marzo de 2010

Looking Back: Documentation and Connections

It’s hard to believe that more than a month has passed since the Tracking Patagonia crew toured its namesake region. Back in January I sat on the floor of the Los Angeles airport, wondering about documentary film as a way to cross the boundary between oneself and others. It has taken me quite a while to digest and dissect this idea in relation to the return trip to Patagonia. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to provide a concise analysis of the emotions tied up in the documentary filmmaking process, but as we move ever forward and set our sights on screenings and festivals here in the states, I feel that a reflective Patagonia chapter must be written.

Our return tour of Aysén takes us to many places and environments, and frankly, it is the first time I see Tracking Patagonia outside of my editing corner. We project it on the wall of production coordinator Anne Hedderman’s bedroom, and her face is a canvas of emotions as she watches the familiar scenes on screen for the first time.

We borrow a sheet from the local health clinic in Cerro Castillo and string it up on the side of a truck in the town plaza. As the night grows cold and spitting rain descends from the mountain, locals zip their jackets up tighter and brave the wind until the credits roll.

Our tour takes us to many of the same houses we once visited while hungry, tired, and looking to shoot an interview. We return to Werner and Ninoska’s home for homemade bread and jam, and to Valeria’s kitchen in Tortel to once again dry our jackets and shoes by the woodstove. We catch Don Lalo just as he and his family are packing bottles of fresh milk and cheese to bring into town. He promises with his characteristic wit to watch his copy and promptly contact me with the inevitable criticisms and complaints.

At one of our largest screenings, at the Café Ricer in Coyhaique, I find myself fielding questions from a very engaged crowd at the documentary’s conclusion. The resounding question that seems to plague everyone in attendance is not about the dams or water rights, but about how and why is it that a bunch of foreigners have made a documentary that shows them just how beautiful and special their own home is?

They ask, “Why you and not us?”

Perhaps it is because we come from a privileged life where dreams like documentary filmmaking replace worries about daily survival.

Perhaps we have found something here in this land that we felt had been lacking in our own lives.

Perhaps we want to somehow return the kindness and hospitality that the people of Patagonia have given us.

As I think back to drinking mate with Don Lalo or trying to explain my Macbook to Don Cecilio, to seeing the Baker River thorough Yoanni’s eyes, or to dancing the first awkward steps of a chamamé, it dawns on me. Perhaps, as strangers in a foreign land, we are simply looking for a way to connect.

viernes, 12 de febrero de 2010

Tracking Patagonia on Tour: Part 2 (Caleta Tortel)

In Caleta Tortel, we hold a screening in the local community center while rain pounds down on the roof. Children run back and forth restlessly across the gym floor while their parents watch patiently. A few groups of teenagers sit clustered in the bleachers, fascinated to watch as their tiny town is represented through foreign eyes.

We search for Jorge Arratia, the father of our dear friend Yoanni, a river guide who died in a kayaking accident a year after we filmed his interview. Yoanni’s death had added to the sense of urgency during post-production. The mission of returning the interview footage to his family became just as important as contributing to the dialogue about the dams.

Jorge is out in the woods for a few days logging cypress, but we finally catch up with him during our last day in town. He invites us in for a mate, and we find a pleasant surprise: an eleven-month old baby boy named Jorge Amaro. Eleven months old. He was born in the same month that Yoanni died. We sit together with the family, drinking mate and watching the documentary. When Yoanni appears on screen, I am not sure how they will react. Will there be tears? Should we have mentally prepared them for what they were about to see?

There are no tears. Jorge’s eyes shine with pride. Little Jorge Amaro is already walking and shuffles around between us. Perhaps he is seeing his big brother for the first time.

lunes, 8 de febrero de 2010

Tracking Patagonia on Tour: Part 1

After a full weekend of screenings in Cerro Castillo, we pack up a truck and head south to retrace our original route as far south as Caleta Tortel. In Bahia Murta, we stop to visit Werner and Ninoska, who generously fed us and put a roof over our heads during the arduous bike journey. Werner has grown out his hair and added rather large Patagonia Rebelde (Rebel Patagonia) flag to the barn. In Puerto Bertrand, the blue headwaters of the Baker River still shock me as if it’s the first time I’m there. The water level at the confluence of the Baker and Neff Rivers is higher than I’ve ever seen it before, and we stop to watch the sun set over the Neff valley.

In Cochrane, we crowd into the kitchen of Don Cecilio Olivares, one of our most memorable interviews and a 91-year-old pioneer of the Baker valley. He struggles to remember us, perhaps because my hair is shorter and Rob’s longer, but we open up my laptop on the kitchen table and press play. Don Cecilio sits at the table with his granddaughter by his side, and watches as he himself speaks the powerful opening lines. He nods his head and blinks with his characteristic intensity. His wife is cooking lunch on the wood-burning stove. She moves with the grace of someone who has undoubtedly spent thousands of hours feeding the fire, lived endless winters in a drafty house, and served countless rounds of mate to family and friends. Every so often she abandons the stove to watch a minute or two of the documentary, murmuring in agreement.

As the film ends, Don Cecilio turns to me. “These days, people are trying to fill up entire suitcases,” he says. “Back then, we were only worried about filling our pockets.” He raises his voice and gestures for emphasis. At 91 years old, Don Cecilio is still one of the strongest and most forceful people I have ever spoken to. And although he probably won’t live to see far into the future of Patagonia, he defends it with the strength of ten people. As we drive away, Don Cecilio and his wife stand in the door waving, his stare unwavering. In the truck we are all silent, each overcome by emotion in his or her own way.

martes, 2 de febrero de 2010

World Premiere: Cerro Castillo

It has been almost exactly two years since the Tracking Patagonia team rode bikes down the Cuesta del Diablo, a set of s curves in the Carretera Austral that descends from the top of the Cerro Castillo pass into the valley below. At that time, we were only a couple of days into filming and hadn’t even reached the end of the pavement. Today I am winding down those curves again, this time in a truck, and heading to Cerro Castillo to show the film that started here.

On Monday I stop into town to meet with people and try to find a way to screen the film during this weekend’s festival of cultural traditions. The film finds its way into the right hands, a local guide, who quickly radios the leader of the local organization in opposition to the dams. Within an hour we have a meeting of 8 people, who stop what they are doing in the middle of the day to come and watch. A couple of six packs of Crystal are thrown into the mix for good measure, and a plan is devised for three showings—one on each day of the festival.

Tonight, you could say, is our world premiere. Rob and I set up a theater at the very farm where we camped with all of our cameras and equipment during production. Felidor, who owns the farm and helped us weld a broken bike trailer, looks truly happy to see us again and throws us an asado (lamb roast). We hang a sheet up in the barn, fire up the projector, and pass around a carton of wine as people start filling up the haystacks and later spill onto the floor. There is snow falling up in the pass tonight, and rain falls on the tin roof while the cold seeps into the barn, takes hold of our feet, and slowly works its way up our legs and onto the tips of our noses.

I crouch in the corner and watch people’s faces as Don Cecilio speaks the final lines. Rob is smiling. When the credits roll we are met with applause. The wine carton is empty and rain still falls on the roof. I can’t possibly imagine a better way to premiere Tracking Patagonia.

martes, 19 de enero de 2010

Coyhaique Sounds Like Home

Touching down in Santiago, one immediately feels the pulse of South America. It just feels different down here. Although for me, perhaps the biggest difference I feel is inside; the last time I landed in Santiago I was searching for something that I couldn't quite articulate. But this time, just under three years later, feels more like a homecoming than an act of departure.

The past couple of weeks have been extremely fast-- one week in Santiago and the second in Buenos Aires, a city I have never been to before but surely plan on visiting again. And now, at long last, I find myself in Coyhaique, listening to the familiar sounds of constant wind, crackling fire, and the rattling of corrugated metal rooftops. After two years of editing footage filmed here, I had still managed to forget how much I love these sounds. Video, even at its very best, is still a rough approximation of life.

In Santiago I made the first important steps toward returning Tracking Patagonia to its rightful owners, the people of Chile. I met with the people at Ecosistemas, including Juan Pablo Orrego, who has been an outsopken leader in the campaign against the dams. I sat side by side with Juan Pablo, watching and listening to his reactions, as the faces and places I had worked so dearly to represent rolled past on the screen. Near the end of the film, "Abre la Ventana," a song I have grown to love by Victor Jara, scores an emotional moment. Turns out that Juan Pablo Orrego's band, Los Blops, is playing with Victor on this very track. Juan Pablo looks at me, and somehow I am not surprised. It seems that this particular work of art has already broken through the surface.

Now, here in Coyhaique, I will begin the process of planning screenings and events throughout the region. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and the reactions of others with all of you along the way. But in the meantime, I'm equally content to listen to the wind, the fire, and the rattling roof.

sábado, 2 de enero de 2010

Tracking Patagonia Goes on Tour

I'm parked on the floor in Los Angeles International, running on two hours of sleep and lost in that magical moment of reflection that occurs when one is about to embark on a journey. In just under two years from the completion of filming Tracking Patagonia, I am proud to report that I'm headed back to South America with a finished film in my pocket.

It is hard to know what to expect when you produce a work of art and send it back out into the world for others to see. This is the constant journey of the artist and creator... it pushes us to cross the boundary between ourselves and others, and will often lead us to surprising results.

I hope you will enjoy following along with Tracking Patagonia's return to the people who inspired it. I will be blogging about the screenings and events I am able to arrange in the coming weeks, and the surprises and discoveries that will inevitably arise along the way.

I would also like to wish you all a wonderful 2010, may you see your dreams come to fruition and may your endeavors come full circle in the years to come.

See you in Chile!

martes, 29 de abril de 2008

Supernatural River Tsunami

Flood waters along the Carretera Austral

The Baker River has been in the news lately, and not just at the center of the hydroelectric debate. A three square mile glacial lake disappeared in a matter of hours during April 6 and 7 and made a swift reappearance near the confluence of the Colonia and Baker Rivers. 200,000 million gallons of water seeped out of the lake through a large tunnel below the Colonia Glacier in the Northern Ice Field and raged for five miles towards the Baker River. The onslaught of water was enough to make the Baker change direction for two hours and rise 13 feet. It also dropped the temperature of the river from 52 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. There are accounts of animals being washed away and homes being flooded. Fortunately, there were no human casualties.

Scientists attribute this strange phenomenon to rapidly increasing temperatures in the region. The process of ice-melt and rising water pressure on the glacier below the lake caused the crack or tunnel. The Colonia Glacier has receded 1.5 miles in the past 50 years.

Many Patagons remember summers past with very few days of warm weather, but this summer temperatures reaching the mid-80s were the norm. While disappearing lakes are reported more commonly in the Himalayas and happen occasionally in the Andes of Peru, this is the second lake disappearance in southern Chile in the past ten months after a forty-year spell without anything like it. I haven't read anything about how the energy company reacted to this incident or whether it casts doubt on the stability of the zone targeted by the dam project, but it makes one wonder...

On the Tracking Patagonia front Sarah and I are hacking out a living back in the U.S. and hoping to get a trailer out very soon. As I review footage it's pretty interesting to see friends stroll through the room and make various observations about what I'm watching.

"Oh my Goood, that's beautiful! Lake Tahoe...?" Nope, Patagonia.

"Oh my God, look at the cat...haha, he loooves it!!!" What the cat loved as he sat next to me pawing at the television was a pair of woodie woodpeckers searching for worms right above our tent one morning.

"Oohhhh, I like that one!!!" In reference to a nifty little pan down from the moon to an ice-capped mountain and eventually down the mountain side to a raging waterfall on the side of the Carretera Austral.

As for my own reactions to the footage I'll just go so far as to say that some of it makes me laugh, other parts give me the craziest case of goosebumps and - for various reasons - a few parts even bring me to the point of tears, which is quite uncommon.

I am glad to report that I haven't settled into any real American routine after a month and a half back in the U.S.. I look forward to the couple days a week that I drive from Boulder down to Denver and Sarah and I sort through our footage, organize our efforts and hash out our next moves. Quite the crash-course in film-making...:)

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Patagonia and want to get the best news in one dose, go to The Patagonia Times website: http://www.patagoniatimes.cl. There you'll find articles on the disappearing lake, the downward spiral of the controversial salmon industry (have you noticed where the salmon in the supermarket comes from?), as well as reports on Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s comments after a recent trip to Chile. You can also check out the Boston Globe's recent report on the rivers-at-risk and the New York Time's controversial anti-dam editorial.

Thanks for reading along!