In the Americas, the number of Indigenous film festivals is rising, providing storytelling platforms for historically marginalized communities. But globally, there continues to be a disproportionate amount of work representing North America, mainly because those are the films translated and subtitled into English and, to a lesser degree, French. The wide variety of films from South America are more often developed and spoken in Native languages, then subtitled primarily in Spanish or Portuguese for local and limited international exhibition. Ultimately, multiple levels of translation results in less visibility.
Since 2015, the International Festival of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Film and Arts of Wallmapu has been held in Temuco, Chile, a region known for its territorial disputes. Wallmapu is the name given by the Mapuche people to the territory they inhabited before the Spanish invasion. Encompassing a large part of what are now the countries of Chile and Argentina, it roughly extended from the Limarí River in northern Chile to the Chiloé archipelago in the south and from Buenos Aires to Patagonia. In Chile, European settlement concentrated ownership of land by large-scale forestry corporations and landowners, displacing and impoverishing Mapuche communities, who today fight for recognition, land restitution, and environmental protection. Since the 1990s, this movement for self-determination has drawn international support and is met with local and state repression.
The festival (called FicWallmapu for short) is held annually in collaboration with different social organizations, collectives, academics, students, and film professionals, both Mapuche and non-Mapuche, linked to the world of cinema, photography, and communications. In this context, FicWallmapu has become an important space for intercultural and intergenerational dialogue, educating local audiences on Mapuche culture and contributing to relations between peoples and nations. The festival brings together filmmakers—not only from Chile but across the Americas and beyond—around the development and production of cinema and the arts with themes centering ancestral peoples.
Many international festivals, including the vast majority of Native American, Arctic, and Pacific Islanders festivals, require that films be subtitled in English to apply. This leaves the task in the hands of filmmakers and film collectives, who must find ways to finance and carry out the English subtitling themselves, and still meet the deadlines required by each festival. Some festivals receive works without English subtitles and support the subtitling process if the film is accepted. (This is how the Smithsonian’s Native American Film + Video Festival in New York City, last held in 2011, operated.) The ability to receive works not subtitled in English reflects the degree of cultural and linguistic competence—and internal diversity—that these festivals have.
Today, there is growing demand to submit films not only with English subtitles but also with audio description in English. The costs to generate these multiple versions is usually not covered by film festivals. With the rise of streaming platforms and virtual film festivals, accessibility has finally become a broader concern for the film industry. While these services open the content to populations who could not access it otherwise, it creates another layer of labor and cost for underfunded filmmakers. Especially for those who do not have production companies or distributors, these requirements can be prohibitive.
To give greater visibility to the works that have been presented at the festival, FicWallmapu offers an extraordinary digital catalog of exhibited works, available for free online. This catalog has 46 works subtitled in English, 33 of which come from Latin America, including the fiction short films Alma y Esperanza, by Itandehui Jansen, and Mamapara by Alberto Flores Vilca; documentaries such as Berta Vive, by director Katia Lara, about defender Berta Cáceres; and animations from the 68 Voices project. It also has recordings of the activities of past festivals, such as inaugurations, awards, forums and conversations, with several available in Chilean sign language (LsCh) and/or with audio description in Spanish or descriptive subtitles. Several of the films also include free, supplemental educational materials.
FicWallmapu has launched its Mütxüm, or call for Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiovisual filmmakers, of various nationalities and territories, to submit their works on Indigenous and/or Afro-descendant themes to the eighth edition, to be held between November 14 and 18, 2023. More information at ficwallmapu.cl.
We present five videos that have been presented at FiCWallmapu, available in their entirety with English subtitles (select EN when viewing the film).
Alma y Esperanza (Mexico, 2012, 17 min.)
Directed by Itandehui Jansen
* Educational material / guide available
Alma is a nine-year-old girl who lives in an urban environment in the United States, but when she loses her mother, she must travel to her grandmother Esperanza’s house in an Indigenous village in Mexico.
Berta Vive / Bertha Lives (Honduras, 2016, 30 min.)
Directed by Katia Lara
The murder of Berta Cáceres shocked the world in March 2016. Mexican activist Gustavo Castro, a witness and survivor of that night’s horror, was trapped in Honduras. The fight against the illegal installation of a dam on the Gualcarque River is the preamble to this story.
Mamapara / Mother Rain (Peru, 2020, 17 min.)
Directed by Alberto Flores Vilca
* Educational material / guide available
In the Peruvian highlands lives Honorata Vilca, an illiterate woman of Quechua descent, dedicated to selling sweets. As the rainy season begins, she recounts passages from her life, until one afternoon something happens that seems to make the sky itself cry.
Mapu Kufüll (Wallmapu/Chile, 2020, 6 min.)
Directed by Seba Calfuqueo Aliste
Mapu Kufüll (terrestrial shellfish) is the way of designating mushrooms in the Mapudungun language. It’s also the name of this animated “tale” that reflects on the cosmological perspective of the Mapuche people in relation to the collection of mushrooms, a symbol of resistance for the communities in the face of European settlement and colonization.
Waka Wo’ochi Yee Sisibome / The Sorcerer Cricket (Mexico, 2020, 3 min.)
Directed by Gabriela Badillo, produced by Hola Combo
The Yaqui fight against a prophecy to protect their people, not knowing it would be the one to would warn them of a greater evil to come.
Amalia Córdova is supervisory museum curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and co-director of the Mother Tongue Film Festival. She is from Santiago, Chile/Wallmapu.