No Longer Silenced

This is a transcribed and edited interview with Rosemarie Lerner. She a Peruvian filmmaker who created Quipu, a transmedia documentary seeking justice for the hundreds of thousands of people that were sterilized against their will in Peru, in the 90s. This interview was recorded by Andrea del Rio for the NetPosi podcast in London.

Andrea: Rosemarie, I’m very curious about your story. You are a Peruvian filmmaker living in London, doing a documentary about our country, Peru, with a multinational team. How did you get to where you are? What’s your story?

Rosemarie Lerner

Rosemarie: Well, I studied audio-visual communication in Lima, in the Catholic University. Then I came in 2010 to London to do a Masters in documentary at Goldsmiths University. I ended up staying and doing a second course in creative & cultural entrepreneurship, after that I opened a company with two fellow classmates, both of them Chilean and we decided to create Chaka Studio. We decided create this because I wanted to make this film about the forced sterilizations and we need a company to develop this project. We started in 2013.

Andrea: Now tell me about your project, Quipu. What’s the problem that Quipu tries to solve?

Rosemarie: Quipu tells the story of a massive human rights violation that happened in Peru in the late 90s during Alberto Fujimori’s regime. Where do to a state policy, more than 300,000 people were sterilized in Peru. Many claim until today this was done against their will, without their consent. A few years ago, when the topic came back due to its political use in the last presidential elections, we decided we want to make a film about it. When we started researching, we realized that a lot of women, actually thousands of women, had been speaking out and seeking justice for more than ten years. But the problem was that they until now hadn’t been heard by many, so we thought that this was a perfect story for an interactive project, for a transmedia project. Especially because we wanted to do something participatory, we wanted to do something in collaboration with the women and we wanted for their voices to finally be heard. So that’s how we started exploring how we could do something participatory and also take advantage of the affordances of the Internet, like the power for self-publishing and the democratic power of the web. How could apply it to this group of people who don’t have the access to these new technologies? That’s when we started researching and we found out that it was possible to connect some “low”-technologies like that they did have access to, like mobile phones or general phones and radio, with the Web to create a wider impact and allow them to finally share their stories in their own voices.

Andrea: For people who are not familiar with the concept of a “ transmedia” project, can you explain a little what it means? I’m a little bit familiar with how Quipu works and I think it’s a very original concept. Can you explain how you have a landline, what happens after a woman makes a call, whether you do with the audio?

Rosemarie: Yes, basically when we speak about “transmedia”, we’re referring to a multi-platform project that is delivered equally through different platforms. One is a telephone line — for people in Peru, for the affected people, and the protagonists of this story — to access the documentary, the archive. And the other one is the Web. What we have established is a free telephone line in Peru, where anywhere who was affected by this policy, directly or indirectly, can call and they can press “1” if that want to share a story, share a testimonial of what happened. Or they can press “2” if they want to listen to a story of other people who have already shared them. In a way, the goal of this is not only for their voices to unite and go further and be listened to by more people through the Web, but also to connect each other. Until today, a lot of these people are in isolated places and they have never been able to listen to each other or connect with people who were also affected in the same way and make their claims stronger.

For the web interface we’re using the Quipu as a design reference. Quipus were a communication device used by the Incas, and other ancient Indian civilizations. Basically they were knotted threads that where they stored information that they were then able to read and pass across the generations. What we are doing on the interface is using the Quipus as a design metaphor where every thread is a testimony, a voice, and the knots are different marks that the user can use to browse the archive.

An example of a quipu from the Inca Empire, currently in the Larco Museum Collection. Image from wikipedia.

Andrea: What are the main challenges you have encountered so far in the making of Quipu?

Rosemarie: The first challenge was to gain access and to gain the trust and confidence of the affected people, the local organizations that have been working for so long on this topic because a lot of them are very reluctant of media people, of documentary makers, of journalists because they feel that they have been sharing their story for so many years and have never seen any results. That was the first challenge and it took a long, long time and it was a very slow process, but now we are really working in close collaboration with two of the main organizations. Actually you could say we have co-created this project with them. Another challenge, obviously, was the funding because projects like this that are new and experimental are really difficult to fund. Especially if they have a social issue at the core. Also particularly difficult in the UK to find interest in projects that are focused in South America. There’s a lot more interest, usually, in the Middle East or in Africa, but in South America it’s still a difficult thing to “sell”. However, we were really lucky because we got a one-off fund that allowed us to develop, to do all the R&D stage and really come up with this idea. If we didn’t have that opportunity, this wasn’t an HRC fund, we wouldn’t have been able to take the risks to develop something like this.

Andrea: What would success look like for Quipu? What are you trying to achieve?

Rosemarie: Success would be to have a lot of participation, especially by the affected people in Peru. Success would be that people in Peru feel that this tool is something that is useful for them and that the documentary and the voices are heard by as many people as possible, so that there is international and national pressure so that these people can finally achieve justice. We know we can’t promise justice, but we are working alongside several organizations and activist groups. The ideas that the project will help make visible the voices of all these people and try to ensure not only justice & reparations but things like this would never happen again.

Andrea: What would achieving justice for the victims would look like? Getting some sort of compensation? What do you think for that?

Rosemarie: One thing about our project is we never use the word “victims”. Since the beginning that was the choice that we made because we don’t consider these women victims, they are resilient women, they are fighters. Even if they are the victims of a massive human rights violation, the approach that we have is to highlight their resilience. That’s just a note on how we deal with this…

Most of the people are looking especially for reparations because a lot of them still have health problems, they have emotional problems and so far they haven’t even been seen by medics or they haven’t received any kind of medical attention after what they went through. Recently, president Humala has announced a new decree to create a registry for the victims of forced sterilization for the first time. This is a very important first step, but it doesn’t assure the reparations of the victims yet. What most people are looking for is probably some collective reparation where they are assured that all their needs are going to be met.

Andrea: For the people who would like to find out more about this massive violation of human rights in Peru, where can they do it? Where can they watch the documentary? What links would you suggest checking out?

Rosemarie: Well, you can visit our documentary, the site is www.quipu-project.com. Or you can also visit Amnesty’s site, currently the Amnesty International chapter in Peru has a petition going on to ask the Peruvian government to give reparation to the people affected and the name of the campaign is Against Their Will.

Andrea: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Rosemarie. We appreciate it and we will keep an eye on your project for sure. All the best.

This interview is originally from NetPosi, a podcast about activism and technology. The best way to find out about future episodes is to join the email list. You can also subscribe using iTunes or follow the show on Soundcloud.