The Fragility of Memory

Scene from the film Inkarri

In the past few weeks we had the chance to speak with Director Josè Huaman Turpo and Producer Alejandrina Calancha about their role as filmmakers and their lessons from over twenty years of working with indigenous communities. One of the major lessons that comes from their work is understanding the fragility of Memory.

With over twenty years in this field they have seen how some traditions, ways of life, and rituals have been lost. Unlike most filmmakers, Jose and Alejandrina depend on the various agricultural and ritual calendars of the communities they work with. When they film they know it could be the last chance they get to preserve a ritual, to share the voice of a community elder, or the last chance to witness a ceremony unfold.

They don’t attempt to enter these communities to recreate rituals or traditions for the camera. Instead they film when and where the rituals, ceremonies, and gatherings actually happen. This is grounded in a holistic vision where Josè and Alejandrina are merely there to share the ways of life, the voice, the experience, and stories of indigenous communities from their own perspectives. That is why Inkarri was the first Peruvian film in Quechua — other films are narrated in other languages. Inkarri is told by the Q’eros and Alejandrina translated all of their words into Spanish, which can be read as subtitles.

No film is made with the intention to solely go into a community, film, leave, and then edit. Instead, it’s about fostering a relationship that’s built on mutual respect, support, and reciprocity that is maintained for years. They have done this with the Q’eros, the K’anas, the Huachipaeri, and many more. If you have ever been to Josè and Alejandrina’s home you might see them spending quality time with the community members they work with.

Director Josè Huaman Turpo and a member of the Q’eros Community.

Developing and maintaining these relationships for many years across various different communities in the Andes and Amazon regions has shown them how important it is to preserve the wisdom and ways of life that are at risk of being lost. Some of their friends who were members of the Q’eros communities and part of the film Inkarri have passed away. This means that certain customs, beliefs, and ways of life can no longer be recovered. Right now, Alejandrina and Josè are working on Voices That Heal, the fourth film of The Mysteries of The Andes film series. In this film they are documenting the healing practices of a Huachipaeri community that only has 20 members that still speak their language. Although newer generations may not yet realize what will be lost in a couple of decades, the voices of the Huachipaeri healers will now be heard long after the language is lost.

For them it’s more than just filming, it’s about preserving the history and knowledge of indigenous communities for generations to come. Unfortunately a large majority of filmmakers that visit these communities produce films from their own Western perspective and then leave without ever supporting or giving back to the communities that they worked with. For Josè and Alejandrina this work of over twenty years has been a labor of love due to the respect and care they have for the communities they share both cultures and backgrounds with. They don’t commodify or view the cultures of the communities they work with as product to be exported. They also don’t do this for money or fame but do instead because they know how necessary it is to share the vision and voice of the Andes and Amazon people.

This is why we are very proud to have partnered with Josè and Alejandrina who have made us feel much closer to the Q’eros and K’anas communities as we watch Inkarri and Q’eshwachaka. Together we seek to meet more Peruvian villages so that we can support them to spread their wisdom, to help their traditions survive, and to be in a deeper relationship with them. Our Ayni team is also excited to share Alejandrina and Josè’s work across the US, and to connect them to those who are also interested in preserving the memory of the Andes and Amazons. We’re hoping that you can join us in preserving these cultures from close and from afar. For us it’s been an incredibly humbling experience to work towards preserving a community of our culture that’s been ignored or negated. Together we can listen to what they have to say and support them in sharing and documenting their vision and message for the world so that it’s not lost forever.

If you are interested in learning more about the films of Josè and Alejandrina please visit misteriosdelosandes.com if you would like to donate to support their work please visit ayni.institute/the-memory-fund