DOXA films: beneath the surface


The Documentary Media Society is bringing back the DOXA Documentary Film Festival to Vancouver audiences for its 17th year. Running May 3–13, this curated and juried festival is a combination of public screenings, panel discussions, public forums and educational programs.

Over 30 genres will be celebrated this year, including the Latin American genre featuring A Six Dollar Cup of Coffee by Andres Ibañez and Alejandro Diaz and Cielo by Alison McAlpine.

Cielo – beneath the starry sky

McAlpine, playwright, poet and filmmaker, stumbled upon the subject of Cielo when everything went dark.

“I was walking outside at night in a tiny village in the Atacama Desert, Chile when suddenly all the street lights went out. There was no moon. I looked up. I had never seen such extraordinary beauty. I felt a profound freedom inside – so many questions arose. I set off on a journey in this desert to explore and discover the night sky,” says McAlpine.

McAlpine says the film captures not only the people who work on the famous telescopes of the desert but also the people who call the desert home.

“The remarkable characters we filmed – the desert dwellers and scientists who live and work in the Atacama Desert – their stories, their reflections, their humour and humanity and the endless beauty of the Chilean sky were and are my continual inspiration,” McAlpine continues.

When asked what one thing she hopes the audience takes from Cielo, McAlpine explains that Cielo is the Spanish word for sky and also for heaven, but that it is also used in common speech with the possessive mi, or my in Spanish, the meaning then changing to my love.

“These meanings float through the film,” says McAlpine. “I would like the audience to turn their thoughts to the infinite, the unknowability of our surroundings, to the sky in all its mystery and limitless grandeur. Cielo is an invitation to slow down, reflect and rediscover our world, offering –
I hope – the audience an evocative space in which to think and imagine for themselves. Or even experience a moment of transcendence, what photographer Robert Frank calls, ‘the poetry behind the surfaces of things,’” she says.

McAlpine hopes that Cielo will be back with a theatrical run in Vancouver mid-August.

A six-dollar cup of coffee

Mexican producers Ibañez and Diaz tackle the behind the scenes, rarely talked about events from the growing of beans to the pouring of a cup of coffee. In A Six Dollar Cup of Coffee, an innovative coffee co-op founded by Indigenous producers in Chiapas, Mexico had the idea of selling processed coffee instead of the raw green bean and when a Japanese company buys most of it, life seems to be on the up and up.

Behind the scenes of coffee culture. | Photo courtesy of Andres Ibañez and Alejandro Diaz

“When we started with the coffee co-op it was to show the struggle they endure to commercialize their coffee,” says Diaz.

Both Ibañez and Diaz admit to drinking a lot of coffee, up to five or six cups a day. Yet they had no idea what sort of work was behind the production of what they drank.

“Also as a gastronomic ingredient – I think a lot more people are drinking coffee, especially in the North West in places like Seattle, Portland and Vancouver there are a lot of roasters. It is important for people to know the origin of their coffee crop, not just the finished product. If you know about your food you will drink better coffee,” adds Ibañez.

Then tragedy strikes in the film as a fungus destroys 70 per cent of the crop. Soon the Japanese company sell their chain restaurant and the co-op has to go back to the drawing board. The filmmakers said the struggle of making the film was to adapt to the change.

“We shot for a very long time –five years,” says Diaz.

They faced challenges with funding and filming was difficult, but Diaz says editing the footage was the hardest.

“We had to take all the footage and put it into a narrative we designed, but this is real life and we had to adapt to life sometimes,” says Diaz.

Diaz says that working on the movie taught the filmmakers patience, awareness of natural cycles and different ways of life.

“When you work with food you have to be patient. You have to wait for the agronomical cycles and respect the way the people live. Since we lived with this co-op for four years, we wanted to tell their human story too. How to balance the information with the dramatic story-telling was a great challenge,” says Diaz.

The film has many messages Diaz and Ibañez hope to deliver to audiences, but there is one in particular the filmmakers hope stays with Vancouver audiences:

“Every coffee you purchase helps a certain system to prevail. We invest in the future we want and if you see not just the gastronomical side of it, but the faces and people whose lives are impacted by a one-dollar cup of coffee, not just the roasters and baristas, but the growers too.”

For more information on the DOXA Film Festival, visit