Iván Sanjinés

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 1999
This description of Iván Sanjinés's work was prepared when Iván Sanjinés was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999 .


Iván Sanjinés brings Bolivian indigenous groups together to focus on how they can use communications tools to protect their interests.

The New Idea

Iván Sanjinés is creating a master plan for social communication among indigenous groups in Bolivia, based on his ability to negotiate a strategic alliance, as of 1997, among three separate confederations who together represent the country's thirty-five indigenous groups. His project will train indigenous communities how to use video equipment and make their own videos--for everything from news, documentation of environmental and human rights violations, to educational pieces about production, political organization and culture, to fictional pieces by and for indigenous communities. In addition to the network of indigenous video producers, he will also train community educators whose role is to distribute productions and lead discussion on follow-up, so that the product is more than a viewing experience.Iván is thinking broadly about the role of communications, of video as a tool to both to bring the federations together (the first time they have collaborated to this extent in Bolivia) and to explore what it means to be a federation and how to communicate with constituents. The use of modern technology itself is an act of integration with the modern world, but the process Iván is leading allows indigenous video producers to raise questions about how that integration should proceed, about community identity, and about what they are trying to communicate.The alliance of the confederations provides a high level of indigenous participation and extensive distribution potential. Iván provides a bridge between the indigenous groups and technical assistance within an institutional framework of video professionals. The project will exploit links to both national and international mass media so that indigenous video material can form part of a broader consciousness-raising and anti-discrimination agenda. Iván will launch similar initiatives in other countries--utilizing existing links to Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, and Chile.

The Problem

In this modern age, audiovisual communication is becoming an ever more powerful influence and tool that shapes public opinion, government decisions, and everyday life. However, the indigenous populations in Bolivia and throughout Latin America do not have access to the process of creating the content of such information. In Bolivia, there are thirty-five different indigenous groups, constituting sixty percent of the total population. Despite the fact that they are the majority, these communities are under-represented and under-served by the media. Although it is true that indigenous communities have been the subjects of films and video, episodic features do not build in follow-up on the ideas raised, nor do they build permanent skills within the community itself. Moreover, these productions bear the subjective view of a filmmaker who is an outsider to the community. As a result, they often include inaccuracies about the indigenous communities and cultures, which are then unfortunately spread to society. There is little support in Bolivia for the exchange of ideas and experiences within and among the indigenous groups themselves. Because they are isolated from one another and are not aware of themes and discussions in the other communities, it is difficult for them to reinforce and promote the generation of new proposals, or to collectively participate in decision-making processes. Therefore, this current lack of interaction and common understanding among indigenous groups inhibits their social and economic development. They are in need of high quality communication tools to represent themselves in the national setting, and to better negotiate their collective rights as an oppressed population. Fear programs are aimed at revitalizing the indigenous identity through capacity building within their own communities. This problem is compounded by the media bombardment of audiovisual images of mestizos and white people, that are unrelated to indigenous realities and contribute to a weakening sense of indigenous identity. In turn, this threat to indigenous identity is detrimental to the survival of the communities because it inhibits their participation in their own development.

The Strategy

For a decade, Iván has persisted in putting together the necessary pieces for his work. In the earliest stages, he conducted a study to profile the nature and state of indigenous communications. By 1996 he had begun a series of training workshops in video production and camera work, experimenting with news, documentary and fictional formats. He followed up with the creation and training of a network of local educators to distribute material and drive community processes resulting from the workshops. These activities include exchange programs between communities to share production practices and techniques profiled in the videos. The communities themselves support the living costs of the video producers and educators, an indication of their investment in the program.Then Iván brought together representatives of three major indigenous federations to explore their common interests. This alliance, begun in 1997, led to the creation of the Indigenous Audiovisual Coordination of Bolivia (CAIB) with technical assistance from a citizens' organization Iván established in 1989 called the Center for Training and Production of Cinematography (CEFREC). CEFREC's mission is to use films made and distributed by a professionalized indigenous corps to reflect the problematic indigenous reality, nationally and continentally, and to strengthen the networks of exchange and distribution among the indigenous communities.Iván then launched the national strategy, including research, diagnosis, contract negotiation, prioritization of themes (land use, property rights, health, production, etc), and commitments from the various federations. Between 1989 and 1999, Iván has expanded a training program, developed a fiction component to the video production, negotiated with state and civil society organizations for the loan of video equipment, created a "production-distribution nuclei" around the country (there are already thirty, linked by radio and newsletter), and built collaborations with mainstream media. Post-production centers have been established in La Paz and Santa Cruz.Fifty indigenous members of different groups and regions of Bolivia, all delegates from local organizations associated with the three national confederations, have already been trained as video producers. Iván and the communities have completed many film and video productions which are available for distribution to all the communities. They foresee at least 10 indigenous productions per year of both fiction and documentary genres. Eventually they will be the base of an indigenous film archive. Some productions have been subtitled in English in order to be presented in non-Spanish speaking countries.Iván is strengthening his funding strategy, through the sale of material to international culture/education channels, networking with distribution networks, schools and universities, and presenting proposals to foundations. Distribution at international film festivals provides another source of support; Iván was one of the key organizers of the VI American Festival of Indigenous Film and Video in Guatemala in August 1999, and will present his work at the Universal Exposition 2000 in Hanover, Germany.In 1995 Iván was elected as general coordinator of the Latin American Counsel of Film and Video of Indigenous Groups (CLAPVI). It is an international professional organization founded in Mexico in 1985 and aligned with the battle that indigenous groups are waging for greater protagonist roles in the elaboration and circulation of audiovisual messages, and access to self-managed modes of communication. Iván will use its reach as a springboard to replicate his model elsewhere, especially Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, and Ecuador.

The Person

Son of the famous Bolivian cinematographer, Jorge Sanjinés, Iván's life has always been immersed in the cinema. While growing up, he was present at every movie that his father and production company, Ukamau, shot and produced, even playing a bit part in their most famous movie, "Yawar Mallku" (Blood of the Condor). As a result of traveling with his father to shoots, Iván learned the art of cinematography and the power of film as a tool of social change. Iván was also able to familiarize himself with several different regions of Bolivia and learn about the different indigenous communities and cultures in these regions. At nine years of age, with an 8mm video camera in hand, Iván filmed his first experimental film casting his sisters as the actresses. Due to their controversial status, Iván's family was forced to flee Bolivia in 1971 during Hugo Banzer's military coup. They went to Chile and unfortunately were forced to escape once again in 1973 during Pinochet's military coup, ending up in Cuba. When the family was finally allowed to return to Bolivia in 1979, Iván resumed his work with Ukamau, returning once again to the indigenous communities to film. But he soon became disillusioned by the methodology utilized in Ukamau to film the indigenous communities because it did not allow for community members to self-direct their own productions. In Iván's opinion, Ukamau was working under the notion of doing cinema with the community, but was missing the next essential step, giving the communities the role of "managers of their own images". Fueled by this realization, and armed with his previous experiences and knowledge gained by his cinematography studies at a Bolivian university, Iván left Ukamau to pursue his own projects.Iván cites his experience participating in the Mining Cinema Workshop from 1984 - 1988 as being very influential in his life. The workshop emerged from an agreement between the Bolivian Mining Union Federation, the French Embassy, and the Varan Association of Paris. Despite the fact that the initiative had fruitful immediate results, and the 13 documentaries were well received in France, there were no plans for its continuity and follow-up in Bolivia. The young miners who had been trained were left without the possibility to do more films because the French collaboration was cut off after the initial productions. This clearly demonstrated to Iván that it is not fair to "experiment" at the cost of people and organizations, and that it is always necessary to establish strategies and adhere to the needs and requests of the communities in order to ensure continuity and sustainability of the programs. This experience was one of the catalysts of Iván's founding CEFREC. Iván has also benefited from a lot of international experience, studying film in Bolivia, France, and Spain, as well as organizing and participating in several seminars, workshops and film series in Latin American.