Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Lucas Bessire

As we round out the year Wenner-Gren is pleased to present an abstract and trailer for Dr. Lucas Bessire who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Ayoreo Video Project.


ayoreo_trailer_FINAL from Lucas Bessire on Vimeo.

The Ayoreo Video Project

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Ayoreo Video Project is an experiment in visual anthropology and political advocacy through collaborative video-making with Ayoreo-speaking people, members of a small, recently-contacted Indigenous group of the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco facing several immediate threats to their lives, land and dignity. Developed over two years in collaboration with Totobiegosode-Ayoreo leadership and the organization Video Nas Aldeias, the project taught Ayoreo to make their own videos.

The project entailed several linked activities that were completed between March 2015 and February 2017.  It began with five months of community consultations, after which my long-term Totobiegosode collaborators and I decided to host a four-week video training workshop in a remote village. For this workshop, we invited a select group of fourteen Ayoreo from five villages (Chaidi, Arocojnadi, Campo Loro, Tunucujnai, Zapocó), three historically hostile sub-groups, and both sides of the Bolivia/Paraguay border to take part. The participants included both men and women, ranging in age from approximately 23 to 70 years old.  The pioneering Brazilian media collective Video Nas Aldeias (VNA, which has been training Amazonian Indians to make their own videos since the late 1980s) agreed to serve as an institutional collaborator.

As part of this partnership, we invited two VNA associates and filmmakers to help envision and coordinate the Ayoreo video workshop. From August – September 2015, my collaborators and I installed basic infrastructure, donated small HD camera kits to each village team, trained Ayoreo participants in the basics of digital video and assisted village teams as they conceived, directed and began to film videos on the themes of their choice.

In April 2016, I returned to Paraguay with another VNA collaborator and editor to coordinate the editing of the Ayoreo-made films. This meant installing basic editing infrastructure, gathering village teams and developing a collaborative editing method tailored to Ayoreo cultural norms and decision-making styles. We worked closely with village teams as they identified and constructed editorial elements within their footage, crafted a basic story-board, refined it to reflect key priorities and concerns, assembled rough-cuts, screened them in the villages and incorporated this feedback into final cuts of their films.  Finally, we cut a reflexive ethnographic film about the project based on workshop footage as well as archival footage I shot in those same communities a decade before.

The result is a set of four feature length films, meant as stand-alone parts of a quartet, that revise previous images of Ayoreo. Together, the films allow Ayoreo to tell their own stories about themselves, to speak back to impoverished representations of their humanity, and to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue in a context of violent dispossession. At the same time, the films open new directions for future reflection, research and advocacy.

To learn more about Dr. Bessire’s project we invite you to read his article in the November, 2017 issue of Visual Anthropology Review.

 Films of the Ayoreo Video Project 

Farewell to Savage | 2017 | 70 minutes | Lucas Bessire (with Bernard Belisário and Ernesto de Carvalho)

This film uses footage from the video workshop, a drone and archival footage shot by the filmmaker in this place a decade prior to craft a non-linear reflection on the power of visuality to provoke new ways of relating to the world, each other, and alternate versions of ourselves. In visual dialogue with each of the Ayoreo videos, the film documents how the video making process unleashed new potentials and dilemmas for all involved, in ways that pose important questions for anthropological theory, practice and advocacy. 


Yiquijmapiedie – Our Ways | 2017 | 52 minutes | Chagabi Etacore

In this quiet reflection on making and belonging, the leader of a band that made first contact in 2004 and two others re-create material objects that were once crucial to survival in the pre-contact forest but that have little use in the present and are thus being forgotten. Working together, the three protagonists show the process of digging up a water root, creating wooden storage containers for water, and making bark ropes for a swing game. They provide subtle commentaries on their activities and instruct younger generations about these practices.


Ore Enominone – Visions | 2017 | 92 minutes | Ajesua Etacoro & Daijnidi Picanerai

This film is an ethnofictional performance about the creation and inhabitation of a dream world in the forest. Created by the survivors of a deadly 1986 first contact, the Totobiegosode protagonists play a fictional version of themselves and share their unique knowledge of traditional foods, practices and beliefs. Blurring the lines between staged reenactments and serious engagements with present challenges, the film opens new spaces for its creators to reflect on the ruptures of the past and to envision a more inhabitable future.


Ujirei – Regeneration | 2017 | 55 minutes | Mateo Sobode Chiqueno

This is a critical meditation on contemporary Ayoreo realities by a 65-year-old Ducodegose man and respected leader who played instrumental roles in his people’s transition from forest to evangelical mission. Filmed over the course of eight months on an evangelical mission, the fragmentary film offers a critique of political marginality and shares one man’s visionary perspective on the destruction and rebirth of Ayoreo society.  Ujirei was an official selection of the 2016 Forumdoc film festival in Belo Horizonte Brazil, the 2018 FICMAYAB festival in Guatemala, and the 2018 Premio Anaconda festival in Paraguay, where it earned a Special Recognition prize.

Blog post updated on December 17th 2018.