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Return to Peru

Leaving Sao Paulo behind, I arrived in Peru to prepare for two screenings in Cusco and one in Lima. The Instituto Nacional de Cultura had helped to coordinate a screening at the Museo de la Nacion in Lima and at the Museo Casa Garcilaso in Cusco. Artemio Paucar, from the Municipalidad de Cusco, helped to arrange a second screening in Cusco at the Teatro Municipal.

I arrived in Lima on Thursday, and Cusco on Friday, and spent the two days testing the projectors at each theater and promoting the screenings.

On Saturday, along with Valentin, my good friend and all around assistant/guide/interpreter during production, I traveled to Mullacas to visit Feliciano and his family for the first time since I completed filming in June of 2008.

The fields were a brilliant green, and the harvest had begun, with teams of campesinos in the fields digging potatoes. I was surprised as I approached the Sacred Valley, to feel the mountains again. It’s one thing to see them repeatedly on a computer screen for two years, and another to stand beneath them. They are simply a massive presence watching over everything that goes on below them.

Since I left Peru in 2008, I have had little communication with Feliciano. The only means for me to communicate with him is through Valentin. In order to get a message to Feliciano, Valentin has to take a fifteen minute bus ride, and a fifteen minute taxi ride to arrive at his house, and can only hope that Feliciano is around. Valentin, who now works as a guide, also occasionally meets Feliciano on the Inca Trail and updates him on the film. When I arrived, Feliciano knew that I would be coming some time in 2010. He had no idea I would arrive that day.

After their initial surprise at seeing me, we settled in and caught up. All seemed well with the family, and Feliciano told me that, though the heavy rains had damaged crops in the Sacred Valley, the fields near his community were thriving, and it looks like the harvest will be a good one.

Royer has grown a little taller and thinner, and seemed a bit subdued. Locrecia informed me that he had asked about my son, who had accompanied me often during filming, after we had left, wondering if we would be coming back.

We spoke for a little while, and Feliciano told me that he had yet to go to the Inca Trail at all this year due to the recent floods. In January, heavy rains caused flooding throughout the Sacred Valley, washing out the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu sits. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were closed for the months of February and March, and Feliciano’s team of porters was scheduled to return for the first time later in the week.

I showed the family several clips from the film, and true to their natures, Feliciano and Locrecia said little, though they seemed please. They laughed often, especially when Royer would appear, and watched quietly and intently as the story of Feliciano’s father’s death was told.

Afterward, I joined them at a party for the baptism of a child in the community, and we made a plan for them to attend the screening in Cusco on Tuesday.

I spent the day Sunday in Urubamba, catching up with old friends and spreading the word about the screenings in Cusco. I stopped in at the radio station Vox Populi, and did a short interview on air about the film. I returned to Cusco, and spent Monday promoting the screenings.

On Tuesday, our first screening was at ten o’clock in the morning in the beautiful Teatro Municipal. Artemio Paucar, the theater’s director, had invited several groups of students from the Tourism Department of the local university to the screening, and the turnout was good.

The screening went well, though I think I learned that the movie theater is not quite as sacred a space in Peru as it is in the United States. People came and went throughout the film, talked loudly when something inspired them, laughed and moved from seat to seat.

In the end, responses to the film were very positive. One man suggested that every politician in Peru needed to see the film to understand the lives of the indigenous people of the country who are consistently marginalized by the government. Several people thanked me for the film, and I was invited to screen it in Urubamba and other communities in the Sacred Valley. I also had a nice conversation with several university students from the U.S.

After the screening, I went to the offices of the CTC, a local television station, for an interview I had scheduled at two o’clock on the program Controversias. With very little preamble, I was led into the studio, and the interview began. I had spoken with Freddy, the show’s host, only briefly the day before, and he seemed surprised when I explained in greater detail what the film was about. He seemed intrigued that someone would be interested in filming the life of a campesino.

After the interview, I learned, through Oscar Mamani, one of the drivers during production who I had contracted to bring Feliciano and his family to the evening screening, that they had decided not to come. I was very disappointed, but had known that Feliciano was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea, and had thought about the possibility that he wouldn’t show.

The evening screening at the Museo Casa Garcilaso was well attended – around 110 people. The reaction was overwhelming. Several speeches were made – one by a man who was born in Mullacas but now lives in Cusco, and two by former porters, including Klever Marca Colonel – a man who has worked very hard to help improve working conditions for the porters over the years. Klever spoke of the difficulty of the lives of the porters and how so many people from countries around the world pass through every year without really understanding the work of the porters and the reality of their lives. He was pleased that the film showed a deeper view of their lives and their struggles. The discussion went on long after the film ended, and overall, the reception was very positive.

In the morning, I travelled to Lima to prepare for the screening that night at the Museo de la Nacion. The theater was about half full, and the response, though still positive, was slightly less enthusiastic. Again, the discussion after the film went on at length, and people seemed engaged by the story. There was more interest in my relationship with the family and the community: how I chose Feliciano, why they agreed to participate, their reactions to the film. And again, some very kind words were spoken, and several people thanked me for the film.

In the end, the return to Peru was bittersweet. Although the reception was very kind, the fact that Feliciano, Locrecia, and Royer didn’t get the chance to see the completed film was very disappointing. Afterward, I realized I could have been more sensitive to the fact that they would feel uncomfortable attending a screening in Cusco. I spoke with some local guides who were interested in arranging screenings in Urubamba and Maras, the small town where the children of Mullacas attend school, and hope to do so in the coming months. Hopefully we can bring Feliciano and other members of the community to the screening in Maras.

The overall positive response to the film was very satisfying. Though I had screened the film in the U.S. and Brazil, I had never been as nervous as I was taking the film to Peru. I look forward to taking it back again.

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