Dust. It fills the frame, even as horses gather at a waterhole, as wind blows tree branches, as men tend to cattle. Dust colors the air, brown and grey. Dust stirs and settles, rises and falls. Dust is everywhere in Drought (Cuates de Australia), Everardo González’s mediation on land without water. At once distressing and meditative, the film observes men and women and their children, as they survive each day, look back on a past at once mythic and concrete, and sometimes imagine a future that may or may not be possible.
Selected for DocuWeeks in August, Drought offers little narration and less plot, but it does raise questions, about how people live in adversity, how they make sense of daily disorder. The same might be said of another film at DocuWeeks, We Women Warriors (Tejiendo Sabiduría). Focused on the experiences of three women in Colombia, journalist Nicole Karsin’s first feature film makes clear both their daily hardships and their tenacity. Doris, living in the southern Awá territory, recalls the loss of her activist mother when she was a child, as well as her inspiration: “My mom worked in native villages,” Doris says, “She was a committed leader, and I followed her example.” Even as a student, Doris says, “I enjoyed working with the community,” and so it seemed to her a natural development that she would run for office as a tribal governor. Specifically, Doris sees the job as a commitment to education, “our mission,” from basic needs like desks in classrooms to teachers and lesson plans.
As We Women Warriors reveals, however, everyday routines in Colombian mountain villages are hard to come by amid the ongoing civil wars. Uniformed soldiers serve as reminders of the government’s ongoing efforts to suppress the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and, as Doris points out, “People are forced to leave their homes,” abandoning everything: the camera shows families on the move, and then crowded into shelters and tents.
At the same time, Ludis, a Kankuamo woman, describes her own situation, looking after her young sons and the farm left behind by her husband, who was murdered by government soldiers who claimed he was working with the rebels. “It’s only five acres,” she says, as the camera looks out over a patch of tilled land, “He worked hard to buy this farm, so he could provide for his kids.” Since her husband’s death, Ludis has endured more trouble: in need of work, she takes a job as a cook for the police: when a group of rebels kills 15 policemen, she’s rounded up and taken to prison: the filmmakers are on hand to capture terrifying footage of Ludis in the police van, tearful and afraid: “I’m a single mom,” she says, noting that her oldest child is just eight years old. “They face a harsh world,” she worries.
We Women Warriors (Tejiendo Sabiduría) (2011)
That world can be daunting. It can also serve as motivation. Flor Ilva Triochez, the first female leader of the Nasa people in 300 years, takes particular inspiration in disproving the local adage that “women can’t govern.” The residents of Jambalo, she says, “are like my children. Any poor decision I make can affect them.” When the police build 25 barracks in Jambalo, and an effort to fight back results in the death of an 11-year-old, Flor Ilva organizes a peaceful protest, during which a group of villagers dismantles three barracks—while the police look on.
Here the film showcases its most effective strategy, which is to observe the women as they work within and in support of their communities. As much as interviews provide insight into Flor Ilva’s or Doris’ thinking, images of their diurnal lives—feeding their children, making plans with other women, marching in protest—underscore the connections between their backgrounds and their turn to activism. Each describes an inciting event, the death of a loved one or an instance of abuse, but daily experience provides context and provocation, as do hopes for better futures.
Hope may be all that’s possible for the families living in the Mexican desert town of Cuates de Australia. Drought‘s breathtaking imagery exposes both destitution and splendor, as men herd cattle, children play, and women collect water from a distant stream—all in swirling dust. They treasure their land, harsh as it is. One man points out what’s at an obvious and existential truth: “To get a piece of land, you have to suffer, you have to struggle. It’s not just, ‘This is mine and I’m going to hold onto it.’” For the land, you come to see in González’s film, belongs to no one.
These stark compositions, accompanied by the sound of wind or sometimes, cantos cardenches (local folk songs), show the intersections of sky and mountains, cracked earth and animals’ skeletons. Each shot is beautiful and heartbreaking too. A rancher describes the cycle: “Over the last few days we’ve been running out of water,” he says, “We have to give animals water and all that shit, and then you have to work your ass off to support yourself, and when it rains here, you have to get the fuck over there with your animals.” He leans into his hands to light a cigarette, as he adds, “With the damn burros.”
The film’s meditation on the interdependence of man and animal, land and life, is at once poetic and provocative. A doctor—in an office equipped with an ultrasound machine—informs a young pregnant woman and her husband that their baby is malnourished, the camera cutting between close-ups of their faces, showing simultaneous apprehension and joy. Every day, they survive. And each day, the cycle goes on.
Drought (Cuates de Australia)
We Women Warriors (Tejiendo Sabiduría)