Director Juan Vallejo Explores Mining Community Life in Bolivia Through Documentary

Positioned 14,000 feet above sea level, Juan Vallejo, director of the documentary “Cerro Rico, Tierra Rica,” entered a narrow Bolivian mine carrying Coca-Cola and dynamite for the miners. Unable to breathe comfortably, Vallejo steeled himself and continued into the mine. During his presentation last Friday night in Kemper Auditorium, Vallejo described this exploit as one of the most challenging experiences he faced while filming his documentary.

The film screening and presentation was part of the Latin Arts Weekend, a weekend consisting of events hosted by Alianza Latina in celebration of Latin culture.

“Cerro Rico, Tierra Rica” portrays the hardships two mining communities in Bolivia face and the alienation inherent in the work inside the mines. Vallejo focused his documentary on Bolivia to explore the conflict between the indigenous culture and colonization in the country, as well as to reflect on his Latin roots.

“What I’m most proud of in the film is to be able to show something about our world… and to have learned so much from the [Bolivian] people,” said Vallejo during a question and answer session with the audience.

Vallejo described entering the mines and shooting at a high altitude as some of the most challenging aspects of the film-making process.

“We had never been in Bolivia. We had never been in a mine, so this was basically our experience as observers who don’t really know the landscape of the film. You have to give the miners gifts – that’s one of the things about being able to enter the mine, whether you’re doing it as a tourist or not. So we had really heavy stuff – you have liters of Coca-Cola for them, you have dynamite, which is also a really weird thing because you’re carrying dynamite with you – because it might explode,” said Vallejo.

“It’s all very heavy, and you cannot breath when you enter the mine. It was actually psychologically really hard [to go into the mines]. I wanted to leave the first time. I was actually unable to enter the mine at some points when we tried to shoot again,” said Vallejo.

He continued, “That, and I think the reality of the work, which is just really tough to observe. Those were the two more difficult things. … You would sleep at night and would barely be able to breath – you feel like you’re suffocating. It’s psychologically really interesting to have to push yourself in those circumstances.”

Vallejo’s mission in creating “Cerro Rico, Tierra Rica” was to paint the picture of people that hold very different lives than those of his viewers using the example of the miners.

“The main thing is if you can somehow keep some of the information from the film in whatever life is going to allow you to do, then that would be great. Particularly [with] people who are so young and have so much promise… maybe if you grew up and formed your own company, you’ll have some awareness of what paying your employees can do…and be more conscious of certain things,” said Vallejo.

“The film does not try to really connect the dots. It asks you to put [resonating thoughts] all together and figure stuff out and connect certain things. In a way, [the audience has] to ask the questions and try to answer it if you’re interested in it…. It’s on the audience to weave it all together and make a conclusion out of it,” he continued.

Just as he pushed himself by documenting the environment of the Bolivian mining communities, Vallejo hopes students can push themselves in their own endeavors through watching this film.

“The peak in your lives [is] when your mind is probably at the height of its capacities, so I hope that people realize that as a student you can just push yourself to make something that you’ve never done,” said Vallejo.

Samir Safwan ’16, Co-Head of Alianza Latina, hopes audience members were be able to gain perspective on cultures outside the Andover community from viewing the film.

“I think [“Cerro Rico, Tierra Rica”] serves to show that there’s a lot more going on outside the United States. There are a lot of families who don’t really have the opportunity to have a professional life,” said Safwan. “In this case, as you see in the film, the [mining is] more of a family [tie], and that’s hard for [the miners] to escape. You see generations after generations of Bolivians in the mountains who are working in the mines,” he continued.

In addition to the showing of “Cerro Rico, Tierra Rica,” Latin Arts weekend also featured an interactive Latin dance filled with Latin-style dance lessons and a competition last Saturday.

“Besides [having an] awareness of the presence of Latin-American students on campus, I think Latin Arts Weekend serves to celebrate the culture and just to celebrate Latin America, and celebrate the Latino and Hispanic cultures,” said Safwan.