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Technical Difficulties

It seems there is a problem with the trailer on the website. We’ll get it sorted out as soon as we can. In the meantime, you can see the trailer at the film’s Facebook page here.

Upcoming Screening in Bozeman, Montana

I’m happy to announce that Mi Chacra will screen at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture, July 29th at 7:00pm in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana. Tickets will cost $10, and will be available at the door and in advance at Cactus Records in downtown Bozeman. I will, of course, be attending the screening, and will do a Q & A after the film.

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.

It´s All True Recap

After a whirlwind two weeks, the Mi Chacra screenings in South America are over, and I’m back in the states.

The screenings in Sao Paulo went very well. The audiences at the two screenings I attended seemed very much engaged by the film, and the discussions afterward were excellent. Some of the kindest words I´ve heard about the film as well, and I would have loved to have stayed for the screening on the 18th.

As I posted on the film’s Facebook page, several people spoke after seeing the film about the misconceptions both people from the countryside and those from the city have about each other’s lives. This idea, along with reactions to Feliciano’s feelings about the differences between the tourists and the porters were major topics of conversation. As a point of contrast to the overall human movement toward cities, one viewer brought up Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), in which large numbers of people are working to move back to the countryside and establish small farming communities. The film elicited wide ranging conversation, and a strong identification with Feliciano and his family. And again, as I’ve posted elsewhere, perhaps my favorite moment came when, after waiting in the back until everyone had finished asking their questions, a sweet older man approached me, and told me, through the interpreter, that the film was art, and that the images were like paintings.

Speaking with another filmmaker, we agreed that the audiences in Brazil were really incredible – there is a serious audience of film lovers with an appetite for challenging docs at this festival. And that is what they seem to get. I am certainly not an expert on the subject, but the programming seems very rigorous – perhaps a bit more intellectual fare than you would find at most festivals in the states. The docs I saw were inspiring – some really courageous examinations of difficult subjects.

I have to admit, I felt a bit of trepidation when planning the trip. My only recent exposure to Sao Paulo was the film Manda Bala, so, of course, I expected complete chaos. Honestly, going to one of the largest cities in the world, in a country I’d never visited, to show a film that questions the urbanization of the human community, I was unsure what to expect. I came away having heard extremely thoughtful reactions, and feeling a very positive connection with the people I met. I hope I have the opportunity to return again some time in the future.

Welcome to the Mi Chacra blog.

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.