Hello, welcome to the Mi Chacra blog. My name is Jason Burlage, the producer and director of the film. This blog is beginning roughly two and a half years after production began on the film. I’m currently travelling to South America to attend the film’s international premiere at the It’s All True International Documentary Film Festival in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After the festival, I will be on my way to Peru to screen the film for the first time in the country where it was shot, and for the first time for the subjects of the film.
To start the blog off, I’ll try to give a brief recap of the film’s history to date. The synopsis of the film and my bio can be found on the website, so I’ll stick to information that is not found there.
The film came about as the result of a story told to me by a Peruvian friend in the spring of 2007. I was working for a company directing summer community service programs for teens in the Cuzco area. I was on a scouting trip for the program, and was working with Nico Jara, a local friend/co-worker, to arrange projects for the upcoming summer, when we passed a group of porters washing their gear in the river near Urubamba. I asked Nico how much money they made for a four day trek (around 160 soles plus tip), and he proceeded to tell me an impassioned story of their lives and the disappearing culture of the indigenous communities around the Sacred Valley. He painted a vivid picture, and told a compelling story.
I had come to know many Peruvians from these small villages over the three years prior, and was fascinated by their lives – lives that continued on in many ways as they had for hundreds of years. Their connection to the land and the seasons, their sense of community, the beauty of the area, and its history: all of these aspects drew me in. The fact that I felt on some level that I would like to live more as they did, while they wanted to live more as I did seemed a compelling contradiction. The intersection of the traditional life of the indigenous people and the modern world was a challenging situation to understand, and provided a rich topic to explore.
Pre-production on the film began in August of 2007. My girlfriend, nine year old son, and I moved into a house in Urubamba, and I began to interview porters. Many of the villages in the mountains around the Sacred Valley have established teams of porters led by a lead porter, the ‘jefe’. When the travel agency the particular team works with needs a team of porters, they contact the ‘jefe’ with the dates and number of porters needed, and he organizes the team and arranges to meet the tour group at Km 82, the beginning of the Inca Trail. In my search for a subject, I would visit a village and ask for the ‘jefe’. I would explain the situation, and he would arrange for me to meet with porters that fit the profile either individually or as a group.
I interviewed roughly sixty porters in seven different villages in the area before approaching Feliciano, Locrecia, and Royer to ask if they would be interested in participating. I have to admit that they were one of two families we considered approaching, and, initially, I leaned toward the other family simply because the father was very open and outgoing. Feliciano, on the other, was very reserved, and I worried that it would be difficult to get him to open up in the interviews. The same friend who told the story that set me off on the film imparted some advice. He told me not to underestimate a quiet man like Feliciano, and assured me that, although it might take some time to get him to open up, he had stories to tell. He was right.
During pre-production, I also interviewed a cook working on the Inca Trail named Valentin Baca Baños. Valentin would become my interpreter, guide, production assistant, and all around right hand man. He was with me throughout the shoot, and not only helped with everything from sound recording to translating, he added a great deal of depth and insight to my understanding of the porters and the people of the area.
Filming began in September, and I followed Feliciano, his family, the community, and the porters for the next three months – the planting season. Interviews took place whenever and wherever we could get Feliciano to step away from his work for a moment and talk. They began slowly, with Feliciano generally giving single sentence answers to our questions, and as he, and I, became more comfortable, expanded to tell a truly unique, complex, heartbreaking story of his life and the life of his community.
At the end of November, I returned to the states, and between December of 2007 and the beginning of April 2008, footage and interviews from the planting season were translated, subtitled, and logged, various scenes were edited, and a thirty minute preview of the film was created. The translations alone took months, with Valentin and his wife, Neyda, translating from Quechua to Spanish, and my girlfriend, Kareen, and I translating from Spanish to English.
In mid-April, I returned to Peru for the harvest. Interviews continued, slightly more focused by the translation and editing of footage and interviews from the planting season. It was a busy time, with Valentin and I following Feliciano and the community to the fields almost every day, and following the porters through another trek on the Inca Trail.
I filmed through the beginning of June, and returned to the States to edit. Over the course of the next year and a half, a handful of very talented people became involved and helped to move the film toward completion. Keith Lockwood came on to somehow push me from the three and a half hour rough cut to the hour and forty minute final cut. Nayo Ulloa and Alex Berglund contributed music far beyond anything I had a right to hope for. Kevin Price guided me through all manner of technical issues and, along with Steve Fulton, helped put together the final sound mix. Wyndham Hannaway and Neil Sullivan at Hannaway & Associates in Boulder used some mysterious piece of technology to create a beautiful HD image from our SD footage. And Stephanie Szeremeta, Sue Lakso and everyone at Crash & Sues in Minneapolis put an amazing finish on the piece.
The film was completed in November of 2009, and premiered soon after at the Starz Denver Film Festival. It has since screened at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and, of course, is now screening at It’s All True.
This blog will update the film’s progress as it continues on the festival circuit, screens in theaters around the U.S. and beyond, and makes its way to DVD. It will also be a way for me to share the stories, images, interview excerpts, and footage/scenes that didn’t make it into the final piece.