Filmmakers expose Latin American realities

Juan Manuel Sepúlveda filming. Photo courtesy Juan Manuel Sepúlveda

Mexican-born filmmaker Juan Manuel Sepúlveda is fascinated by human struggle.
Sepúlveda, 32, is an internationally recognised documentary filmmaker and cinematographer who is pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts in Vancouver. His latest film, Lessons for a War, will be showing at this year’s Vancouver Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF).

Juan Manuel Sepúlveda.

His film documents the resilience of the Ixil people of Guatemala as they prepare to defend themselves against a second war.

Films focusing on human struggle have historically been well received by urban-dwelling festival audiences in the ‘first-world.’ When asked why this might be the case, Sepúlveda says he doesn’t like the classification between the first, second and third world

“Each corner of the world is a combination of the three,” he says. “Here in Vancouver, you can find the three worlds just crossing a couple of streets.”

However, Sepúlveda does acknowledge that there are many who see these worlds crossing, yet ignore those who are struggling.

This ignorance concerns fellow filmmaker Simone Rapisarda Casanova, whose film The Strawberry Tree is also showing at VLAFF. Casanova worries it may be a sign that we have lost contact with both reality and our civic duty. He says that this behaviour has marked the demise of many civilizations.

In the opening scenes of The Strawberry Tree, four displaced locals reminisce about what they’ve lost after a hurricane wiped out their remote fishing village in Cuba. Sicilian-born director Casanova says the hurricane actually came a few weeks after he completed filming. But he thinks audience members who think they are engaging with human struggle here have missed the point entirely

Simone Rapisarda Casanova.

The Strawberry Tree is more about exploring filmmaking. Casanova rejects the traditional documentary style of hiding filmmakers, instead allowing audiences to watch him develop a playful relationship with the locals as he films their everyday lives.

Sepúlveda supports Casanova’s style of filmmaking, explaining that no matter how much film-makers pretend to be distant from their subjects, the two inevitably interact. He says that when someone like Casanova puts this interaction in his film, it is a way of being honest about his work.

Regardless of their filmmaking differences, Sepúlveda and Casanova are promoting dialogue about relations between Canada and Latin America through the festival. These relations, says Sepúlveda, are unfortunately not always positive.

Casanova hopes that this year attention will be drawn to the struggle of Latin American communities who are being threatened by Canadian mining companies.

Amidst all this struggle and ignorance, Sepúlveda doesn’t want to be pessimistic. He says that those first-world-problem-facing audiences are picking up on a new trend.

Being politically active and engaged has become fashionable. He says many people who wouldn’t have otherwise made a difference are now making significant contributions in the world.

Ultimately, Sepúlveda’s fascination is not with human struggle itself. He says it’s with the hope those struggles represent.


The Vancouver Latin America Film Festival runs from Aug. 31– Sept. 9. Visit for details.