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Interview with Diana Rico
"Our mission is to transmit the coca culture in Colombia."

© Erika Torres, 2019.

The filmmaker Diana Rico and her partner Richard Décaillet founded 4direcciones, a production company whose objective is to spotlight the culture and traditions of the indigenous communities in the Amazonas.

How did you start working on documentaries on indigenous issues?

It all started with El lado B de la historia (The B-Side of History), our first series, which we made in conjunction with the Colombian National Museum. With the series, we wanted to activate the museum's objects and tell their story. We already knew their role in ceremonies and their raison d'être in rites. Now, we wanted to present them as memory. Later, we created animation and short documentaries as well as feature films and series... But we have never made fiction or reality, but rather pieces that activate other things. 

Richard and I both have a background in visual arts, and that influences the way we work. Video is an art form but at the same time also an activist tool. We made the videos that accompanied the consolidation of the Yaigojé Apaporis Park. Through these videos, UNESCO was able to understand the significance of this territory and why it should be protected. We also made the audiovisual accompaniment of the previous consultation of this park.

We worked side by side with Gaia Amazonas as well as on the processes in the department of Vaupés, our main place of work. All of this led us to ask ourselves what purpose audiovisuals actually serve, regardless of the format. Finally, in 2016, María Belén Sáez de Ibarra, director of Heritage at the National University of Colombia, proposed that we use the material from our sound archive to create something on a broader scale. And so we made El origen de la noche (The Origin of the Night), an exhibition on the coca culture commissioned by the museum. That exhibition showed us the way.

Did that work somehow lead you to virtual reality (VR)?

Yes, because both formats focus on sound. Just then, without really knowing what we were doing, we started working with virtual reality together with a Canadian who was using that technology. We went to Pirá together, and from there, one of the first virtual reality pieces made in Colombia came out. This piece showed us that virtual reality breaks with the time line of cinema, which is heir to reading and writing. Cinema is reading linearly, in time. But when you work with oral cultures - and I think that's why indigenous cinema in Colombia is practically nonexistent - you realize that cinema is an exclusionary format. To tell stories is to learn a language that is not natural, that is not given, and try to summarize with that language an experience that is of another order, which is made under a notion of the non-linear world, is almost impossible. Virtual reality however allows us to communicate an experience rather than a story. It allows us to illustrate what happens in the jungle in a way that is closer to how the indigenous people live it. That's where Coca emerges from (Kají - Sacred Coca, 2018).

What does Coca portray?

It portrays people. It's an immersive documentary, made with VR in the Pirá Paraná River, revealing the process of the coca ritual; the elements of this daily activity that the Amazonian Indigenous have practiced since the beginning of time. The beauty of picking up the leaf, toasting it, being; simply being. But what we create with the sound is what really happens to the spectator. What is assembled in it does not come from sight, but above all from what is heard. That's exactly what happens when you mambea (chew) coca or ingest other plants: you consume them, you hear something and that sound is what creates within you a visual architecture. And to me, the mental image that appears is art.

What is the mambe?

It is a practice of indigenous men, who every night, from around six pm to midnight, sit inside the malocas (an ancestral long house) in the Amazonas or the Sierra Nevada to organize the world. They sit down to communicate deeply with everything that exists and to examine the community. It is a political space and a place for the transmission of knowledge. And, without a doubt, there is a harmony between the gentleman who practices mambe in Pirá Paraná and the one who is fifty million kilometers away. Both are looking at these issues from where they stand. 

In other words, as Humboldt said, everything is connected.

That's right, but Humboldt, whose heritage is also deeply rooted in us, did not attribute a human dimension to that interconnection. His view of nature was that of a man still imprisoned by himself: powerful, white aristocrat who came to these territories to observe and study them and then offer his opinion or judgement. Humboldt came to "discover us again". Even so, he was a very necessary figure, because translators of worlds are necessary.

How was the project with which you won the Hackathon organized by the Goethe Institute in the Humboldt year 2019?

I formed a team of five people: a hacker, a programmer, a musician, Aimema Urue - a young man from Chorrera, Amazonas-, Richard and myself. We present ourselves with Juyeco - which means "totuma" (calabash container or vessel) and at the same time "what it contains"-, which shows the maloca as a scientific center. I am sure that when Humboldt arrived in America, the indigenous people cured him in order to strengthen his knowledge, so that he could see, and so that he could complete his journey in good health and return as a messenger. He was our instrument. So that's what we did: we hacked into Humboldt's thinking. We made a maloca - the indigenous representation of the territory - that shows the places that Humboldt had visited, through his illustrations. The spectator walks through that map; she is the explorer, but with Amazonian maloca technology. Passing through a drawing, she activates a territory with a telephone and augmented reality, hearing their sounds. People can also sit in the center and get to know the mambe. We also used pictograms, dance symbols, as legible signs that activated the experience during the tour through an app. What could be seen from the outside was a dance inside the maloca.

What are you taking with you from this experience?

This was a very important political opportunity because we achieved what we wanted and what we will continue to strive for: to portray the coca, and shift the center; that it be here.