BLOG: Cámara Chica Venezuela
Framing up outside La Minka community centre, Caracas
In 2013 we worked with film education organisation Into Film to take their workshop model to Cuba. Building on the success of that programme we’ve just completed the first stage of a rollout, this time in Venezuela. Senior Programme Manager Will Massa reflects on the latest edition of the Cámara Chica initiative.
I’ve just boarded a cable car in the San Agustín neighbourhood of Caracas, part of an expanding pubic transport system introduced in the Chavez era and designed to improve mobility between areas that are too hard to travail on foot, or where being lifted over is preferable to passing through. It’s an impressive innovation and takes us high above some of the sprawling barrios that encrust the capital’s hillsides, cinematic from a distance but sobering now from a bird’s eye view. Venezuela is going through a particularly difficult moment; hyperinflation is causing serious economic woes on the ground and most citizens find themselves queuing for hours to get their hands on daily goods that are in increasingly short supply. With an economy so dependent on oil revenues the drastic dip in cost per barrel on the global market has hit the country hard. ‘It’s bad but we’ll get through it, the greatest asset we have in this country is our people’ says Reinaldo, a cultural leader in the local community who works at the Teatro Alameda, one of the centres we’ve partnered with to deliver the rollout of the Cámara Chica project. It’s a sentiment I hear time and again as I move around this most energetic and hospitable of countries, and it’s hard to find any evidence to the contrary. Indeed, an enthusiastic local fish seller - fresh from a documentary interview by a group of Cámara Chica participants - is quick to tell me that San Agustín has produced some of the finest musicians in the country and that they’ve got a rich local theatre culture too. So he’s really pleased to see young people from his area making films because it is yet more confirmation of what he already knows: this is a creative place with stories to tell.
Cámara Chica is an ambitious and multi-layered challenge. It involves a range of partners on the ground, the shipping and donation of equipment, and the training of community centre leaders and university film students to work with young people to make films. Since we first ran the programme in Cuba we’ve made some small but significant adjustments. Firstly, and following the advice of our partners at Into Film, standalone cameras and laptops have been replaced by iPads so that both filmmaking and editing apps can be housed in one tablet and are more accessible for the participants. The iPads are more mobile and allow the beginner a greater range of movement, plus they are easier to group around for playback. Secondly, we’ve created a comprehensive filmmaking guide that we hope will help to keep things ticking over at the centres long after we’ve gone.
For the Venezuelan rollout our local office worked hard to select four centres, each with a distinct personality and set of needs. Before we started in Caracas our experienced mentors Chris Kemp and Barry Hale took on a centre each in different parts of the country. Chris travelled to Bajo Hondo, a small community about twenty minutes outside the oil-refining town of El Tigre where he worked with a group of young people from Venezuela’s indigenous Karina community, a community for whom self-representation and storytelling is both a cultural and political imperative (you can read more about his experiences and see his great photos here). Barry went to a picture-postcard town in the Andes called El Molino and worked with a slightly younger age group who were bursting at the seams with creativity and enthusiasm. Four hours from the nearest big city, Merida, and with no internet access, the young people of this town told me that sometimes they can feel a little cut off, but they’ve got stories they want to get out there and hopefully this will be another way for them to do that. I was fortunate enough to witness the work at this centre and I couldn’t help but be moved when the young people screened their films on the final day of the workshop in front of their parents and led a Q+A about the process with the gathered crowd. They were exhausted from their creative endeavour but already planning the sequel to the short horror they had made about a local ghost (Beliefs II if you're asking). Our hope is that these centres and the ones in Caracas will start to talk to each other through film because in a place as big and diverse as Venezuela there are young people that know little about the daily reality of their peers in other parts of the country. In fact, the San Agustín documentary (featuring aforementioned enthusiastic fisherman) is a response to the short piece made by the Karina community that Chris brought with him so his new group could see where he'd just been.
Back in the cable car and we’re almost at our stop. We’ve taken the ride so that our young filmmakers can get up high and bag some establishing shots of their surroundings. ‘It’s important to see the whole picture', one of them tells me, 'otherwise it won't make sense'. I couldn’t agree more.