Movie of the Week: Courage of the People (El Coraje del pueblo , 1971)

In what is the first example of Bolivian film-making that this reviewer has ever seen, director Jorge Sanjines through “The Courage of the People” reenacts the events leading up to a wide massacre of miners by the Bolivian government in 1967. Sanjines pulls no punches, meticulously documenting the growing labor movement in response to deplorable working conditions, concentration camp style living arrangements, widespread disease amongst miners and their families and the withholding of wages. Sanjines explores the roles that American mining companies play in creating demand for mining products and the Bolivian government’s culpability in allowing it’s populace to be brutally exploited in the interest of profit.

Sanjines chooses not to dramatize the events, but utilizes people present at the event and involved in the labor movement. It is said that his direction was minimal, allowing the victims to recreate the massacre at the actual locations where it occurred. The narrative then becomes not one of a director’s artificial representation of events, but the voice of a victimized and exploited people and a document of injustice. Sanjines hoped that the film would speak to and empower working class and peasant audiences.

The film was quickly banned by the Bolivian government, members of which explicitly named in “Courage of the People.” Since then, Sanijines political and film making activities have led him to be exiled from his home country by it’s right wing government on several occasions. He is widely considered a giant in Latin American and political film making.

You can watch a substandard transfer of the film here.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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