Waiting for the premiere of his first feature “Once Upon a Time in the Andes,” presented at Chile’s Sanfic Industria, Peruvian helmer Rómulo Sulca Ricra is already developing his next project. Under the working title “Ayahuanco,” it will focus on a man who, after living in Europe, comes back to Peru.
“He left because of the political situation in the country – his mother was forcefully sterilized as part of former president Alberto Fujimori’s 1990s birth control policy. Now, she is dying of ovarian cancer,” says Sulca Ricra, calling his new endeavor “ambitious.”
“It will be a road movie! It will take place in Lima, Ticlio, we will start from the Pacific coast and move through the Peruvian Andes and the jungle. This character gets to know himself again upon his return, gets to know his roots and discovers new details about his parents. His father was a part of [the communist guerrilla] group called the Shining Path, Sendero Luminoso.”
Before embarking on that adventure, Sulca Ricra will remind the world of “rabonas” in “Once Upon a Time in the Andes”: Women who followed their husbands into combat in the 19th century, forced to fight if their husbands weren’t able to. But young shepherdess Margarita picks the opposing side when she saves an injured Chilean soldier. As he recovers, they fall for each other, but the local community imprisons the enemy.
“To me, Margarita represents my own mother. She died when she was in her twenties, never learnt how to read or write,” notes Sulca Ricra, who decided to work mostly with amateurs, except for actor Juan Cano, recently seen in Rotterdam’s title “Phantom Project.”
“Before loyalty, there is love. Margarita tries to break the rules of her society. She doesn’t care about them, doesn’t care about the war. She cares about her instincts. It’s very telling, because we people from the Andes still don’t care about outside wars. We are in our own universe.”
Sulca Ricra wanted to use the Quechua language in the film.
“In its pure form, although nowadays it tends to be mixed with Spanish, it represents the indigenous people of Peru.”
Despite his film’s title, echoing the works of Sergio Leone, he wasn’t trying to reference any famous Westerns, he says. At least not on purpose.
“I guess I ended up staying close to the Western genre, but I didn’t set out to do that. It was more subconscious than that. People in Peru, in South or Latin America, consume a lot of these movies, including Leone’s.”
His current focus is on telling his own stories, making films about the place he is from and shooting them in Quechua, he says, also commenting on the Academy’s recent apology to Sacheen Littlefeather, who took the stage in 1973 at the request of Marlon Brando, refusing to accept his award for “The Godfather.”
Littlefeather spoke about the stereotypes of Native Americans in the entertainment industry and the Wounded Knee protest in South Dakota. In June, former Academy president David Rubin acknowledged “the abuse” she endured following her speech, calling it “unwarranted and unjustified.”
“It’s never too late for an apology, even though it’s hard to say how genuine it was and how much of it was about someone trying to make themselves look better. And show that the Oscars, which had racist incidents in the past, are now trying to do a better job,” he says.
“I admired that woman, because she didn’t care what people thought. She was speaking out her truth. We indigenous people are the original owners of these lands, but cinema would depict us as violent robbers, attackers and as unworthy of love. It’s important not to exoticize us anymore either. We are not some pieces of art to look at or display in your house.”
“It’s hard for people from South America or Peru to get the help that we need to make films. But there are so many languages and cultures in this country and they deserve to be shown to the world,” he adds.
“We finally have the power to show who we really are. I would certainly like to do that.”