After making some noise on the festival circuit, premiering at the Lima Film Festival, and subsequently winning awards in Uruguay and Mexico, Wiñaypacha, the first feature-length Peruvian film to be entirely in the indigenous language of Aymara, had its nationwide theatrical release in Peru in mid-April. In the weeks since, it has been heaped with critical praise locally, with reviews calling the film everything from the promising debut of a talented director to an important milestone for Peruvian cinema.
Made possible with a 2013 grant from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, Wiñaypacha tells the story of an elderly Aymara couple, Willka (Sun) y Phaxsi (Moon), struggling to survive in a remote part of the Andes as they wait in vain –5,000 meters above sea level– for the return of their son Antuco (Star), who left them behind to move to the city. Fittingly, the title of the film alludes to this longing. ‘Wiñaypacha’ means ‘eternity,’ though as writer and director Oscar Catacora has explained in past interviews, a more approximate translation would be ‘eternity of time.’
Catacora drew inspiration for the film from two experiences. “[When I was] around five years old, my parents sent me to live with my [paternal] grandparents in the upper region of Acora,” Catacora told Latino USA in an email. “When planning the screenplay for Winaypacha, I remembered my two grandparents living alone in a remote area of the Andes, very similar to the film.”
UNESCO lists the language as vulnerable due to lack of transmission. This wasn’t the case for Catacora. When he lived with his grandparents, they were able to teach him to speak Aymara. The second experience that inspired the film involved conducting fieldwork in his native Puno, where the now 31-year-old filmmaker witnessed firsthand the plight of the elderly trying to survive the harsh climate of the region.
Massive rural to urban migration, which has taken place in Peru over the past few decades, is typically responsible for this kind of rural abandonment, with rapid industrialization, internal conflict, and economic policy among some of the contributing factors. Lack of appreciation and government support of indigenous culture can be another. Catacora, however, was fortunate to develop an appreciation of several aspects of his indigenous heritage, not just the language, which he describes as “poetic” and “melodic,” but the literature as well. “I’ve always identified with indigenous literature that places an Andean person at the heart of a story, such as in the case of works by Enrique López de Albújar and José María Arguedas.” Catacora says, “In that sense, Wiñaypacha has been strongly influenced, with regard to story, by indigenous literature.”
Wiñaypacha is not, however, limited to just the influence of indigenous language and culture. Catacora cites Asian cinema as being among his earliest influences, Japanese above all. This, in turn, would have an impact on the production of his debut film.
“Regarding technique,” Catacora says, “you’ll notice the stylistic influence of the great masters of Japanese cinema.” Film critics have also noted other external influence associated with movements such as the neorealism of post-WWII Italy. The cast of Wiñaypacha, for example, is composed of two non-professional actors (including Catacora’s grandfather), neither of which speak Spanish, nor had seen a film before. There is no word in Aymara for “film.”
At the same time, Wiñaypacha is an unprecedented achievement in a country where a little less than a half million people speak Aymara (according to Peru’s last census) and where indigenous representation is scarce if not likely to be problematic.
“Wiñaypacha makes indigenous peoples visible through their language and customs,” says Catacora, “and its presentation through the different platforms is important, as it has cultural, social, and artistic relevance.”
This layered approach can easily be seen in the two contrasting perspectives offered by the film. On the one hand, Catacora explains, “Wiñaypacha portrays the Andean man as a wise being that lives in harmony with nature, but who suffers because their child is drawn toward globalized culture.” In a more general sense or outside perspective, however, “Wiñaypacha is a reflection of the native peoples who live submerged in misery and suffer the consequences that come with the loss of their cultural identity.”
Thus far, the reception, both in Peru and abroad, has been mostly positive, says Catacora. Since its commercial release, the film has reached an audience of over 20,000.
As for what comes next, Catacora shares the mindset of many filmmakers that have come before him: “I make films I want to see.” So what exactly does he want to see? “We are starting a big new project that we know is going to take us a long time,” says Catacora.
The director tentatively plans to make a film on the rebellions of indigenous leaders Tupac Amaru and Tupac Katari, who were executed within months of each other after leading large-scale armed revolts against the Spanish in the late XVIII century.