WORDS AND IMAGES Thor Morales
At the onset of this decade, members of three ethnic groups gathered in the state of Sonora, northwestern Mexico. Seri (Comcaac), Rarámuri, and Yaqui participants went to the Yaqui village of Vicam to get their first exposure to participatory video (PV), with training provided by the U.K.-based organization InsightShare. Three facilitators, sixteen participants, five different languages, and twelve days of intensive intercultural exchange around cameras, culture, and Indigenous voices on climate change. It was a success. Everyone loved the participatory approach and enjoyed using cameras, had fun filming, and learned what it feels like to be filmed. Communities got involved in the process through night-time screenings and word-of-mouth communication. The power of video was unveiled and participants’ creativity unleashed. This is how Pintando La Raya was born, although at that stage I didn’t even imagine the outcomes and surprises this PV journey would yield. My expectations have been far exceeded.
The power of video was unveiled and participants’ creativity unleashed.
After this first gathering, the newly formed PV teams started to produce their own documentary films, mostly based on biocultural knowledge, with an emphasis on foodways and nature conservation. Every film required several screenings in order to be finished and approved by the community. Video acted as a “third party” in the relationship between filmmakers and community. It opened the door to a new form of communication within villages. Through interviews with neglected and forgotten cultural groups and persons such as Elders, youngsters, and women, PV allowed for their voices to be heard. People regained confidence and exerted their prerogative to speak their minds and share ideas on issues they felt needed to be visualized and, above all, changed. Speaking on camera allowed everyone to find a way to express themselves and overcome discrimination, fear, or shyness. Soon, PV filmmakers noticed that everyone was interested in this new form of communication (and in their films). Communities took pride in their participation in endogenously produced movies. They no longer needed to depend on foreign media to speak for them. PV provided the key to true and real, culturally relevant, freedom of expression.
Communities no longer needed to depend on foreign media to speak for them. Participatory Video (PV) provided the key to true and real, culturally relevant, freedom of expression.
Both Seri and Yaqui, in particular, became aware of video’s potential for community building, problem solving, biocultural documentation, and engagement of marginalized groups. Then in 2015 they decided that making PV films for these purposes was not enough. While they were enjoying it and were getting results within their communities, the seasoned Yaqui and Seri filmmakers were ready to go further. This gift had to be shared with other communities within and outside their ethnic groups. Commitment, solidarity, and recognition of shared issues affecting indigenous peoples sparked a new ideal: becoming PV facilitators, with an aim to disseminate PV to all Indigenous communities in northwestern Mexico (just as a starting point!). The use of cameras, they felt, should have a social impact. Video, they realized, has the power to confront issues affecting what matters most to Indigenous Peoples: territory — a simple word that embraces culture, nature, history, dignity, land, food, dreams, landscapes, mindsets. It’s home, often sacred and venerated.
Video has the power to confront issues affecting what matters most to Indigenous Peoples: territory—a simple word that embraces culture, nature, history, dignity, land, food, dreams, landscapes, mindsets. It’s home, often sacred and venerated.
Based on this idea of territory, Pintando la Raya was born. This is a Mexican–Spanish expression meaning “drawing the line.” It is a metaphorical warning to outsiders seeking to illegally and aggressively take over Indigenous lands and resources and exploit culture and nature without giving any benefits back to Indigenous Peoples.
The intent of Pintando La Raya is not to separate the Indigenous from the non-Indigenous. It is a community-based initiative that seeks to empower rural communities and bridge the gap between Indigenous Peoples and urban centers, regionally, nationally, and worldwide. Local problems need solidarity from outsiders. Indigenous Peoples need to form networks of support and resistance to face challenges that threaten their territories. Indigenous communities need to be able to speak for themselves, portray and share their stories in a way that is genuine and reflects local points of view. The overall goal is to train an “army” of PV filmmakers, using the tool of video according to the community’s concerns and desires. The advantage of video is that it emulates the traditional oral way of passing on knowledge as well as the experiential learning process common in most Indigenous communities. It is a modern tool that can be implemented to revitalize ancient cultural ways. The participatory approach ensures video is equally accessible and all voices have their say.
The advantage of video is that it emulates the traditional oral way of passing on knowledge as well as the experiential learning process common in most Indigenous communities. It is a modern tool that can be implemented to revitalize ancient cultural ways.
Many people have been involved in this process, but current members of Pintando La Raya include: Anabela Carlon, Eusebia Flores, Valentina García, and Samuel Cupis from the Yaqui tribe, and Romelia Barnett, Valentina Barnett, Samuel Romero, and Jose Ramón Torres from the Seri tribe. They believe Indigenous-to-Indigenous PV training allows for immediate trust and solidarity between fellow Indigenous Peoples. Their initiative builds on their four-year experience as PV practitioners and the training delivered by InsightShare, through which they have become PV facilitators. Their story is one full of commitment, responsibility, compassion, hard work, fun, delight, and laughter. The three main pillars of this project are community cinema and screenings, to share powerful and inspiring Indigenous Peoples’ stories from all over the world; PV trainings, to create a marabunta (a word that refers to nomadic ants that gather in high numbers, often in the millions) of PV filmmakers; and documentary filmmaking, to express their own ideas and address issues that affect biocultural continuity and territorial sovereignty.
Pintando La Raya is an initiative created by Indigenous Mexicans for Indigenous Mexicans. Yet, it will surely lead the way for other marginalized groups to use PV as a powerful tool to protect nature, culture, dignity, and human rights in general. The Yaqui and Seri are pioneering a trail that will take them to unimagined places, literally and metaphorically.
Thor Morales is a self-taught storyteller who has collaborated with Yaqui and Seri peoples of Mexico for over a decade. He is Senior Associate at InsightShare and has worked with participatory video since 2010, delivering training to Indigenous Peoples, activists, researchers, and artists around the world. Today he works as the Connected Stories Manager at +Peace Coalition.