Interview with Colombian anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Felipe Paz, director of the medium-length film "Putchi Pu".

Receipt: September 12, 2022

Acceptance: December 9, 2022

Link to Putchi Pu on Vimeo:

Biographical note: Felipe Paz is an independent Colombian anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, with a very extensive trajectory having made cultural videos and also worked in the mass media in Colombia and Venezuela. His medium-length films Putchi Pu can be described as collaborative ethno-fiction, as it portrays how conflicts are settled among the Wayúu people (who live on both sides of the Colombian-Venezuelan border on the La Guajira peninsula, the northern tip of South America); it also included the participation of Wayúu people in the script, acting and direction of the film. As such, it constitutes a valuable document for its ethnographic fidelity, its collaborative work and its political content in the context of a Colombia that seeks to consolidate a peace process to put an end to more than half a century of war.

How has your training as an anthropologist influenced your vision of your work as a filmmaker and video maker?

The holistic view of society, which is a fundamental part of my training as an anthropologist, has allowed me to approach my work as a documentary filmmaker in a way that transcends the Western paradigms and "truths" that are traditionally accepted as the framework from which are constructed, in an ethnocentric way, the narratives that present indigenous and peasant societies as materially and culturally "backward" and, therefore, lacking the rationality that underlies modern capitalist economic, social and political formation.

What I try to do with my work is to approach these different and rational ways in which these communities face their reality and continuously transform it.

What mark did your training as a filmmaker and video-maker in New York leave on your work?

My training as a director at the New York University Film School gave me access to the knowledge of the cinematographic narrative that characterizes this art in the context of modern and industrialized society. From this, I have tried to enrich this training, let's call it "classical", both visually and conceptually, by highlighting different ethics and aesthetics that are present in the so-called primitive, ancestral or traditional societies.

You have worked in commercial media in Colombia and Venezuela and also as an independent director and producer. What have both types of experiences contributed to your vision of audiovisual production in Latin American societies?

This is too complex a question insofar as Latin American audiovisual production is a reflection of multiple national realities that cannot be approached from a single category that encompasses "Latin American". Cinema and television in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Argentina or Brazil, to name but a few, have had historical and cultural developments that have responded to the conditions of each country. In the last century, together with the phenomenon of telenovelas made in our countries, which shaped a sort of boom The international film industry, at the center of which were these productions, also made important contributions to the art of filmmaking that transcended the realm of soap operas or soap opera, as the Americans aptly called it, in a clear allusion to its eminently commercial and reproductive function of social values and the status quo capitalists.

You have directed film, video and (from what I understand) also soap operas: what have you learned from working in different genres? Is it possible to use what you have learned in one genre to make another genre?

In the case of the telenovela, it is interesting to emphasize how the vision of the world, society and its conflicts for millions of viewers, not only in America but all over the world, were (and still are) permeated by the contents offered by the audiovisual companies that create this type of content.

However, I believe that as societies and their conflicts became more complex, simplistic dichotomies (such as the impossible love between a poor girl and a millionaire lover) became more and more elaborate and began to involve social situations and conflicts present in our countries. Soap operas and television series appeared that, without abandoning their basic love-love premise, ventured into the exploration of new realities, such as corruption, the overwhelming power of the "narcos", violence against the weakest or the structural social inequalities that are common to the entire region.

This evolution of forms and contents has allowed this television genre, which I consider a "minor art", to be enriched with new narratives that help audiences to develop a critical view of their societies and conflicts, and constitute important cultural contributions, not only for the analysis but also for the transformation of reality.

What do you think of the situation of documentary filmmaking in Colombia today? What role can it play -or is it playing- in the transformation of the country?

I believe that the irruption of documentary cinema in the audiovisual production scene in Colombia has been very important and has contributed significantly to the knowledge, on the part of Colombian society, of realities that had been made invisible both by the armed conflict and by the accelerated urbanization of the country in recent decades. The conflict was - and still is - fundamentally experienced in rural regions of the country, far from urban centers and whose reality is alien to most city dwellers.

However, thanks to the work of entities such as the Fondo de Promoción Cinematográfica, rtvc,1 In recent years, Canal 13 and regional television channels (among others) have produced a large number of documentaries, films and fiction series, which present a reality very different from that narrated by the television news programs of the mainstream press, which reproduced only the official vision (obviously incomplete and biased) of the reality in the Colombian countryside.

As a result of the Truth Commission's report on the reality of the armed conflict in Colombia, a great interest has been generated by the national society to know what really happened during the hardest years of the war and how it fundamentally affected the civilian population.

Within this perspective, I consider the role of documentary filmmaking to be fundamental, not only to present the reality of the atrocious events that took place during the conflict, but also to show the multiple forms of resistance implemented by the communities that were victims of the armed actors. This search for truth and its socialization in the form of film and television products is fundamental to build the reconciled and peaceful society (which does not mean devoid of conflict) that the vast majority of Colombians yearn for.

How did the project originate that gave rise to Putchi Pu?

Putchi Pu - Shepherds of words was the final product of a documentary and fiction film script workshop sponsored by the Colombian Ministry of Culture that I gave several years ago in the city of Riohacha, capital of the department of La Guajira, in northern Colombia. In this department there is a large population of indigenous Wayuú people and one of the workshop attendees, Rosalba Epieyú, is the daughter of a palabrero or Putchi Pu of said people. As part of the workshop methodology, it was established that the participants (including indigenous and non-indigenous people) who belonged to social and cultural organizations in the region, would organize themselves into several groups and work together to create the synopsis, plot and script of a story that seemed particularly significant to them and that could be recorded later in a professional video format, provided that we could find the resources for me to return to Riohacha to work with the young people whose project was selected.

After a week of work, the project that the workshop participants chose was Putchi PuWe considered that making visible the figure of the indigenous "palabrero" and his role in the peaceful resolution of conflicts that arise within his community was very interesting and relevant in a country where political and social violence, with its long harvest of murders and massacres, has been endemic for generations.

How did you learn about the conflict settlement process among the Wayúu?

As an ethnographer, I had previously read about the Wayúu people's particular way of resolving conflicts. The Putchi Pu is an intermediary between the parties in dispute, who uses all the means at his disposal - mainly words - to prevent the use of violence.

How did the Wayúu community collaborate in the elaboration of the story?

The writing of the script was a joint process that, weeks after the workshop, we carried out with the community of Yoshpa, an indigenous settlement located between the cities of Riohacha and Maicao in the department of La Guajira. It is very important to note that the community actively participated in the choice of the main characters and that they were very careful in determining all the events that should happen in order to document, in a realistic and accurate way, how the intervention of a "palabrero" takes place in the solution of a particular conflict, what is the "payment" for the offense and how the negotiations are conducted.

What did this experience represent for the Wayúu?

Both the boys who participated in the workshop and the Yoshpa community and the protagonists of the story were very interested in making visible their way of resolving conflicts, which for them is much more elaborate than that of the "whites".

How was the process of directing local subjects turned into actors of their own reality?

The directing process turned out to be a particularly meaningful life experience for me. I found it amazing how the indigenous people became deeply involved with their characters, and how quickly they understood the filmmaking process.

I don't know the Wayúu language and therefore needed an interpreter by my side. But when, for example, I would say "cut" to change shots, the actors would remain silent and once the new shot was ready, they would resume their speech exactly where they had left off. When editing the material, with the help of an indigenous translator, I found it fascinating to see how I could cut different shots without ever losing continuity or the actors' attitude. There was no need to "direct" them, they were totally involved with their characters, who are ultimately themselves.

My work in this case was limited to narrate with different staging, sequences and shots, events that the community wanted to be told. Within this perspective we can speak of a "collective creation" rather than an "author's" work.

In the context of Colombia and La Guajira, how important is it to address this issue?

It seems to me very important that this particular way of conflict resolution, in the center of which is the figure of the Putchi Pu and economic reparation in the form of ancient coral and gold necklaces, as well as cattle, is known by the "older" society. Something very interesting is that these gold necklaces and "tumas" (pre-Hispanic coral beads) that are paid to compensate for offenses, sooner or later, even if it is several generations after they have been disposed of, return to the family that once gave them. It is a constant cycle in which the circulation of material wealth plays a fundamental role as an element to prevent violence.

This is a very valuable teaching, which reflects the absolutely exquisite ethics and aesthetics developed by the Wayúu culture.

Mauricio Sanchez is a Colombian-Mexican anthropologist and photographer. D. in Anthropology from the unam. Research fields: human-environmental studies, intercultural education and audiovisual anthropology, about which he has published and made didactic and aesthetic projections. She has taught at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, the uam-Iztapalapa, the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos and the unam. He currently coordinates the Audiovisual Laboratory of the ciesas. Member of the Network for Social Studies on the Environment, the Audiovisual Research Network of the ciesas and the Academy of Social Sciences and Humanities of the state of Morelos.

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