Posts Tagged ‘latin america’
Activists, aid workers, development experts and everyday folks have raved over microfinance in the past couple of years, specifically its ability to help impoverished entrepreneurs and small businesses like hair salons and grocery shops thrive in Africa, Latin America and other developing parts of the world.
But the beloved world of micro-lending has its ugly side. As The New York Times reported recently, large banks and financial institutions now dominate the lending field, charging up to 100% for very small loans (often under $1,000). These lenders are the new loan sharks, turning a trend of empowering disadvantaged businesspeople into a way to get rich quick.
Countries like Mexico and Nigeria, where demand for micro-loans surpasses the number of lenders, are hit the hardest. The average interest rate in Mexico is about 70% and in Nigeria, for those who borrow from the nation’s largest lender, 74%, compared to a 37% world average.
As the Times story quotes Chuck Waterfield, a proponent of microfinance accountability: “You can make money from the poorest people in the world — is that a bad thing, or is that just a business?” asked Mr. Waterfield of mftransparency.org. “At what point do we say we have gone too far?”
Photos of struggling entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Mexico via The New York Times
A year ago, I wrote my first post on Exodus, about adjusting both to life as a foreigner in Mexico and to the fact that Barack Obama was elected president.
As I now prepare to leave Mexico in the coming months and explore more parts of the world, I look forward to sharing the last of my Mexico stories and to another year running Exodus. I am also working on my first book. Check out the new page “the book” for more information on that project …
When I first moved to Mexico City, I was surprised to find not only East Africans who had moved to Mexico for work, but also communities of South Americans and Eastern Europeans. Unexpectedly, Mexico has one of the most open immigrant and refugee policies in the world. It admits a record number of people fleeing crises in Central America and the Caribbean, including the people no one else wants: Haitians. The U.S. and Haiti have been in a tug of war for the past year over the thousands of Haitians awaiting deportation from the United States.
In Mexico, the picture is strikingly different. Thousands of Haitians, Cubans, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans walk the streets south of the border, but they don’t have to worry about hasty deportation, random raids or overcrowded detention centers (unless they’re on Mexico’s borders). But all is not perfect. These immigrants also endure racism, job discrimination and economic hardship — a situation that is not too far from the lives they left behind. While they have escaped political persecution and praise Mexico for its flawed but welcoming policy, some of the country’s largest immigrant groups face a double-edged sword of refuge and prejudice. In a cruel slice of irony, their lives mirror those of many poor Mexican immigrants in the United States.
Photo by Alice Smeets
The AP ran a story last week about the growing force of indigenous political awakenings in Latin America. From the Shuar in Ecuador who are defending their ancestral lands to the Mapuche demanding basic social services in Chile, more appears to be happening than just Evo Morales’ historic win in Bolivia. Morales, the first Indian president of Bolivia, recently oversaw a constitutional amendment to allow the country’s 36 indigenous groups to rule themselves. Indians make up at least one in ten of Latin America’s 500 million residents. But they’re often the poorest, living in the most rural areas and under threat from exploitative oil and mining companies and their own neglectful governments.
From the article: “In Guatemala, three in four indigenous people are illiterate, the U.N. says. In Mexico, where 6 percent of the population is illiterate, 22 percent of adult Indians are. Even in Bolivia, only 55 percent of indigenous children finish primary school, compared to 81 percent of other kids.”
Morales famously said that Bolivia is no longer the South Africa of South America, and the country is heralded as the biggest Indian rights success story on the continent to date. But is the struggle over yet? As Bolivia’s presidential elections approach in December, Morales is facing an entrenched white elite that refuses to let go of its power in a nation where three out of five inhabitants are indigenous. Morales may well win despite fierce right-wing competition, but depending on that election’s outcome, indigenous apartheid may not be over just yet.
Photo via the AP
Part Two of the interview with Kivu Ruhorahoza is here:
Do you have the desire to make films in other countries? You mentioned that you had an idea for a movie in Mexico — what is that about?
I am very interested in making movies in other countries. I already have stories of films set in other African countries, Europe and I’m brainstorming with myself about a story of a Rwandan woman living in Mexico. This woman would be a former prostitute who married a German humanitarian worker and after some years of traveling through poor countries they find themselves in Mexico. Their teenage son discovers the power of money and the aristocratic looks of Ibero-American university. He grows up more and more ashamed of his uneducated mother…
Tell us about your upcoming film, which will be your first feature. You described it as a “movie within a movie.”
Grey Matter is a movie about madness! It is a movie about a young filmmaker who wants to make his first feature but faces all sorts of fund-raising problems to the point where he starts confusing reality and fiction. One night, after rehearsing one scene, he falls asleep. Then we don’t know if he dreams of his movie or if he actually made it. But we get to see his movie, The Cycle of the Cockroach about a young violent man who is locked up in the room of a mental hospital and two siblings (a young man and his sister) who survived one conflict. The brother having not been there during the conflict, came back and found all his family massacred except his younger sister. To probably alleviate his pain and/or shame, he starts inventing a reality in which he suffered with his family and was even cut with a machete in his face. He then starts wearing a helmet to hide his “scar”. Ironically, his sister who is a real survivor of that conflict ends up prostituting herself to a psychiatrist so that he can treat his brother. Slowly she slips into depression and she is the one who ends up going in the mental hospital in the room next to the one of the young violent man. One cockroach moves from one room to another one…
What is the filmmaking process like in Rwanda? How do you go from having an idea to putting it into action, especially with limited resources?
There is no film fund in Rwanda. You have to be very creative once your script is ready. In my case, I crowd-fundraise, asking 100 USD to as many people as possible. I give them the choice of donating the money or just lending it to me and I pay them months later. You also have to try and get as many in-kind services as possible. A printer, a car, food vouchers, fuel vouchers, stationery, etc.
It is also possible to get money from some NGOs but you would have to seriously distort or modify your story. It is the easy way but so far I have always despised it! Many aspiring filmmakers in Rwanda have to include some elements in their story so that they can please that type of funders and it is such a pity. If I am making a movie about madness set in an African capital city, I don’t see how I can have a sub-plot of some aid worker sensitizing villagers to wash their hands before eating! And I would have to have the logos of their NGOs well highlighted in the movie…
So, it is very hard to get the film made. But if you are determined, passionate and reasonably talented, there is always a way you can make your movie.
Do you ever pigeonholed as an “African filmmaker” or has it been a freeing experience?
I hate being labeled a African filmmaker. Just call me a filmmaker from Rwanda, that’s it. Honestly, what have I got in common with a filmmaker from Morocco or Nigeria? We come from the same continent so what? My fears, my relationship to religion, to family, to authority, environment, … All that is different. And I think that is part of what shapes an artist’s vision and sensibility. When I see a movie from Burkina Faso, sometimes I am as surprised an Argentinian or a Mongolian can be about some aspects of life in Burkina Faso. The size of my country, its history, the way religions are practiced here, the weather, the music, the food, the place of the woman in the society, the sense of humor, the social codes, … All that has an influence on my work. And I am sure a Chadian would be as lost in Rwandan social codes as a Russian.
What’s next for you? What themes and filmmaking techniques do you still want to explore?
I am fascinated by other realities. The realities of a schizophrenic or a baby who can’t speak. I wonder how baby looks at the adults. Coma, dreams, drunkenness, etc? All these parallel realities are of high interest for me.
I am very also interested in the depiction of sex in African cinemas (because there are many African styles of making films). You hardly see sex in a movie from Africa while this continent, at least my country, is obsessed with it. The Rwandan sense of humor is so much about sex, there is even a sort of Rwandan Kama Sutra but it is not represented in the arts. Especially the relationship power-sex is fascinating to me. Many Sub-Saharan Africans will say that their countries are run by the wife or the mistress of the president. There are particularly vulgar terms in Kinyarwanda to talk about the power of sex. If all goes well, my second film will be about a depressive homosexual who has been deported back to Rwanda after eight years waiting for his papers in some European countries. His former friends don’t stop asking him about white girls, strip clubs that they see on TV, how porn movies are made, etc.
Kivu Ruhorahoza is a young gifted filmmaker who delivers stirring, haunting images even with the lowest of budgets. His last film, Confession, was made for only $350. The short was scheduled to play at the Africala Film Festival here in Mexico City, but its run was cut due to swine flu hysteria. As a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he brings a fresh sensibility to his films that are unavoidably tinged with the story of Rwanda’s past. But the charismatic director still has fun with his work, too.
Here Daddy talks about his current work, his creative process and his artistic aspirations.
Tell us about the film, Confession, that was scheduled to play at the Africala Film Festival.
Confession is a 15-minute film about the theme of forgiveness. In my film, I ask: Who should the criminal ask forgiveness to? My main character in the movie feels that he did something wrong. And he knows that what he did got even worse because of a context of war and Genocide. Because he is a Catholic, he goes to a confessional. In my country where over 80% were Catholic before the Genocide, I think there must be some people at least who, instead of admitting their crimes in courts, went to confessionals to be in peace with themselves. For me, that is cowardice. But it is a confirmation to me that every criminal has some humanity left in himself. I am absolutely convinced that every criminal thinks he/she owes something to the victim and humanity in general. That is why I made my character go ask for forgiveness, writing on toilet walls. But I insist that I don’t have sympathy for rapists…
Watch him talk about Confession:
Do you find that a lot of your work has dealt with the aftermath of the genocide? What is it like to try to mix creativity in the form of film with such a horrific reality? Do people in Rwanda support your work and generally want to be involved with it, in terms of acting, producing, etc.?
The Tutsi Genocide became a reference point for every Rwandan. Even in popular language in Rwanda, people say “before or after” the war. War meaning the Genocide. Things were never the same after the Genocide. For the survivors, the perpetrators and their families and the soldiers who fought the war.
Even if I make a comedy about sexual behaviors in Kigali, the Genocide would be in the background because of how much it changed every Rwandan. There are life changing experiences for individuals like the loss of someone, a marriage, etc. But for a population, a genocide is absolutely a mark in the destiny of a population. From August 1994, people started realizing what had happened. They started digesting their anger, sorrow, disbelief. If the Genocide becomes the main source of my inspiration I would be losing the battle of survival because the first thing to do is to survive. To move on.
It is definitely hard to do any creative work on such an important topic. I don’t think that creativity has to rhyme with sincerity. Being creative is also about distorting realities, looking at things from a different point of view that is not necessary. I try as much as I can to avoid getting artistic satisfaction or success from other people’s pain. But it is obviously impossible and that is why I don’t think that I will ever be in peace with myself doing what I chose to do: film.
Many Rwandans are interested in my work. Some of them would be very happy to support me but let’s face it there are so many priorities other than making a film. Even those who have the means to support me have tens of cousins, aunts, brothers who cannot even afford to buy aspirin… But luckily, I’m moving towards a more professional kind of environment. Young aspiring film professionals have so far been very nice to me. They seem to like my experimental approach to my filmmaking and it is a good sign that people are open to other ways of expression.
While in the Rwandan capital Kigali, I was struck by how many artists, musicians and writers I met. Do you think the arts scene there is growing more than ever and helping to foster a supportive environment for filmmaking?
Unfortunately, I don’t think so! In a country where there are no formal training facilities, you can only learn by watching. But in Rwanda we have one TV channel and not a single proper cinema. There are definitely tens of video clubs where you can watch the last blockbuster but I don’t think you can learn from watching Quantum of Solace. Access to good art can motivate the aspiring artists in Rwanda. But we don’t even have a single public library or a proper music venue in Kigali. All the good intentions in the world cannot replace formal training or access to good arts.
So, we still have a long way to go. But I should acknowledge the efforts of the Rwanda Cinema Centre who organize trainings and a film festival where Rwandans can watch other type of films rather than Hollywood, Hong Kong and Bollywood movies. The Ministry of Culture also is making efforts to have a film commission in place.
We are at a beginning of something and that is positive.
Can you tell us about how you got started in filmmaking and the types of films you have done? What places and subjects have interested you most?
I started as a production assistant, sort of runner who was doing everything that I was asked to do in the office of Rwandan producer Eric Kabera. That was early 2004. Then I went on quickly to become production manager on some of his documentaries and I started writing a lot. I have always wanted to become a writer and I saw some movies that made me decide that filmmaking was what I wanted to do. One of them is L’Ennui by French filmmaker Cédric Kahn.
I have been doing different kind of films. I am only working on my first feature now but I made some shorts about redemption and forgiveness, sexual freedom, creativity and madness, musical documentary, living in a poor country when you are not, … In my opinion, anything can be a subject for a movie. I don’t think I will ever make a film to educate, inform or sensitize. I’m not in a mission. For me, filmmaking is a selfish thing. I do what I like and what I want. Every script starts with a note in a diary or any other piece of paper. So, every script for me starts from something that is related to my mood, feeling, etc. That is why I think that I can work on any subject as long as it is appealing to me.
You sometimes act in your own films, such as in Lost in the South. How do you bridge the balance between directing and performing on the same project?
Each time I’ve done it is because I couldn’t find an actor! I’m not a big fan of acting in my films but I don’t have much choice sometimes. I lose a bit of control when I’m trying to be on both sides of the camera. I prefer being behind the camera and directing.
Photo via The Mail & Guardian
I’ve been fascinated lately with African-Latin American peoples, and so has photographer Sebastian Belaustegui, though for a lot longer.
Check out his photo journey of Afro-American populations across the Americas here for the Global Post.
Photo by Sebastian Belaustegui
Part Two of the interview with Soraya Umewaka is here.
I am Happy premieres next Wednesday at the NY Latino Film Festival in New York City.
How important is it to you that you are a woman filmmaker? Do you feel that you have a unique experience as a woman working in this business?
I feel that my presence is not an intimidating one. I go about often feeling inconspicuous and unnoticed when I film. Perhaps it has more to do with my personality than my gender but I like to keep a low profile when I film and make people feel comfortable with me when they are sharing their personal stories or insights.
How do you connect to your human subjects and persuade them to let you in so intimately into their lives?
I always establish a friendship with the individuals I film, gain their trust, spend time with them getting to know them and only afterward do I film. I have been incredibly fortunate to come across incredible individuals who have opened up to me and let me into their lives. I think being genuinely curious about their lives and wanting to understand and share their life stories and insights with others has helped build the foundation of that friendship.
Do you work by yourself? What kind of equipment do you use? When you are in dangerous places like some favelas, how do you protect yourself, your equipment and your subjects?
At times I filmed with a photographer, but I generally film alone (without a sound recordist, light technician etc). Having said that, I always film with someone from the community. By filming with someone from the community, I gain a better understanding of what I need to pay attention to and that person often helps me stay safe and alert to certain dangers and risks. In Brazil and Ecuador I used a small digital video camera Sony VX2100, which I could easily fit into my rugged backpack so that people would not notice that I am carrying around a video camera. When I filmed in the favelas of Rio, I always filmed with someone who is respected in that community. As long as I was filming with someone from the community, I felt safer filming in the favelas than in the city of Rio, as no one steals from one another in the slums of Rio, as the judicial law that resides there are different than that of the law in the city. (No one steals from one another in the slums of Rio, as one would get executed by the drug traffickers if one did).
How do you feel about injecting yourself into your films? Do you prefer that your voice not be heard, or do you like to tell your stories from a first-person viewpoint?
At first I disliked hearing my own voice when I was editing the documentary, however, I realized that since I was filming my friends, often having a conversation with them, it sometimes became inevitable to have these individuals talk to me, as opposed to talk into the camera. I also noticed that with my Brazilian film ‘I am Happy’, although I wanted to remain behind the camera, this documentary revolves around the close friendships that I share with these individuals.
How hard is it to get your films shown? Is it a constant process of entering film festivals and promoting your work? Is it equally difficult to find backers or financiers?
It is hard to get my documentaries shown, as it is becoming increasingly competitive to get into film festivals (especially without a sales agent, a production and distribution company), and as you said, it’s a constant process of entering my film to film festivals, and promoting my work. I am delighted that my documentary will be premiered in New York (NY Int. Latino Film Festival), Rio (Rio Int. Film Festival) and Tokyo (Brazil Film Festival). I especially look forward to the Rio Int. Film Festival where the individuals in my film will be able to see themselves on a large screen.
With regards to financing my films, as a student, I used to receive funding/grants from Princeton, however, now that I have graduated, I often cover the expenses of my documentaries from directing or producing other documentaries and programs with different production companies and television agencies. Recently I started to contact the corporate social responsibility sectors of companies for sponsorship and received some positive response from Japanese companies (such as Mitsui and Suntory Wellness). In partnership with an NPO (World Children’s Fund), I have the profits from the documentary go to the community such as educational scholarships for youths and women in the slums of Rio. It is very important for me to not only share my films with others but to also make sure that the profit goes back to the community so that it makes a positive difference to individuals in the documentary.
What’s next? Any plans to do a film in your native Japan or are you still exploring other parts of the world?
I have filmed a documentary on identity through the portraits of individuals in Kathmandu, and Bhutanese refugees in the South East of Nepal. I will start editing that film shortly. I am also filming a documentary in Tokyo about what it means to take a break from the perspective of different individuals in the city (such as an artist, a fireman, a Noh actor, a young child who goes to cram school). I would also like to film the daily lives of civilians in Beirut, Lebanon to explore the resilience of different individuals who live in a post-war nation and the creative culture that thrives there.
Contact Soraya at email@example.com.
NY Int. Latino Film Festival World Premiere
July 29th Wednesday 3:30pm at Clearview Cinemas
July 31st Friday 4:00 pm at Clearview Cinemas
(260 West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Last photo by Tomas Reyes
Soraya Umewaka is one of those filmmakers. The kind you read about who has been to countless countries, plunging into their seediest, most eccentric parts and producing film magic. She is of Japanese and Lebanese origin and was raised in London and Tokyo. From Ecuador to Afghanistan, Cambodia to Brazil, Soraya has made documentaries that take intimate looks at foreign cultures and unravel them effortlessly. Her latest, I am Happy, is set in the favelas of Rio de Janiero, Brazil and focuses on how different residents are using the feeling of happiness to cope with their difficult lives.
I interviewed Soraya, a dear friend, for this blog. Part One will be posted today and Part Two on Wednesday.
Tell us about your new project, I am Happy. The synopsis says it is about different people in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil who have used happiness to cope with their difficult lives, you call it a type of “self-salvation.” How did you decide to do a film about these people then go about doing it?
Upon graduation from Princeton University I was awarded with a Labouisse Fellowship from Princeton to make a documentary in Brazil. I remember seeing a lot of Brazilian films and documentaries about the violence in the slums of Rio but I wanted to know more about the creative culture that resides there. I was curious about the people who lived there. I wanted to explore the relationship between those who live in the slums and their neighbors who live in the center in Rio de Janeiro. I spent the first 4 months getting to know diffrent individuals in Rio (samba dancers, police officers, maids, graffiti artist, hip hop dancer) by for example attending samba dance classes in a slum called Cantagalo, which is a slum situated in between Ipanema and Copacabana beach (one of the wealthies regions of Rio). I became close friends with maids while I was staying with Brazilian families. When I was living with these Brazilian families I wanted to know more about how the culture of maids affects the family nest. How does the inequality of wealth within the family nest affect the child who lives with a maid? It is easy to ignore the inequality of wealth on the streets but more difficult to ignore the inequality of wealth within the family home.
I never asked any questions about happiness but these individuals who live in very humble conditions often expressed that they are happy. For this reason, I decided to call the film ‘I am Happy’ only in the editing room when I saw repeated statements on happiness.
I call it a type of ‘self-salvation’ because it is a mind state that nobody can take away from these individuals. Being happy helps them stay strong and overcome difficulties. I found that they did not attain happiness because they overcame difficulties or because they achieved their life goals or dreams but they used happiness to cope with the difficulties that overcast their lives. Terms such as ‘joy’ (‘alegria’) and ‘happiness’ (‘felicidade’) are strongly embedded in the Portuguese language and the Brazilian culture. Although I am still trying to understand what happiness is, I feel that happiness is not so far from sadness and by embracing both emotions we become stronger individuals.
The I am Happy trailer:
What was it like working in Brazil and for how long were you there? Did you run into difficulties filming?
I was in Brazil for six months. The first four months of my stay, I made friends, got to know my friends very well and only the last two months of my stay did I start filming. I wanted to make sure that the people I was filming were very comfortable with me and the presence of my camera before I started filming so that their behavior and what they told me was as natural as possible.
I noticed that you have some proficiency of Portuguese when you laughed at a statement a female cook made about desserts in the movie’s trailer. Did you become fluent in Portuguese? How do you bridge language barriers when film making in different countries?
I always prefer to film by myself without the presence of an interpretor so that I will be listening to a friend as opposed to filming an individual while the interrpretor translates for me what the person is saying. This gives the documentary a more personal nuance. I studied two semesters of Portuguese at Princeton before leaving to Brazil but mainly learned how to speak Portuguese with my Brazilian friends. It always changes the dynamics of the friendship when you are able to speak the other person’s language.
You had made a number of documentaries over the past several years, though you are only in your mid-twenties. Can you tell us about how you got started in film making and the types of films you have done? What places and subjects have interested you most?
I have made a few short documentaries in the past in Kabul, Afghanistan, Beirut, Lebanon and Phnom Phen, Cambodia. I became interested in making documentaries when I was in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2003. I carried a small video camera with me and filmed landscapes of Kabul and children from street children centers without the intention of making a documentary. When I returned to Princeton, I wanted to learn how to piece together the footage I filmed. When I started editing, I quickly became immersed in the infinite possibilities of creating a message by deciding what to keep in the documentary, what to delete, and what scenes I juxtapose. I enjoyed every part of the process of making a documentary from getting to know people, listening to their stories, filming, editing their stories, making available these stories to people who live a completely different reality, and the discussions and involvement that the documentary encourages.
I am interested in all cultures. Being bi-cultural (Japanese Lebanese) and living in more than one culture, I like to see what is unique about different individuals and transcend the framework of nations and cultures. I enjoy making documentaries on portraits of individuals with a unifying theme (for example: happiness, identity, or what it means to take a break). I often make documentaries that highlight the strengths, the humor of individuals who often blend into the background and are unnoticed.
You’ve done a few films related to Latin America, notably Street Witness in Ecuador. What about this region draws you in?
I am drawn to all regions of the world, however I was always curious about Latin American culture and music. I took one semester of Spanish before going to Quito, Ecuador to do an internship at a street children center. With the patience of the street children and my mini English Spanish dictionary, I managed to communicate to these children. The challenge of going to a foreign country alone and creating a documentary from scratch was exciting.
Check back for more on Wednesday …
“Smuggling season” has begun, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said this week.
300 Africans from all over the continent were feared to have drowned on an illegal passage from Libya to Italy — 100 bodies have been found — and their perilous journey to an ideally better life is duplicated all over the world.
From over 60 Africans who have drowned in the Gulf of Aden after traffickers pushed them overboard to the 550 Muslims fleeing Myanmar who are believed to be dead after they were allegedly set adrift in boats towed out to sea by Thai forces, human smuggling has become the problem that won’t go away.
It’s not just Mexicans following coyotes across the border, it’s the smuggling of Haitian and Cuban migrants to Florida and the Dominican Republic (even to the Bahamas), it’s the smuggling of Indonesian migrants to Australia, it’s the smuggling of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans to Mexico, all who have a significant chance of not surviving along the way.
The pursuit of happiness is a tricky one if you’re living in a lowly-developed, conflict-stricken country. And often a dangerous one if you decide to leave your home. But if you were in their situations, what wouldn’t you do?
Photo via The Boston Globe