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Reviewed by:
  • Indianizing Film: Decolonization, the Andes, and the Question of Technology
  • Zoila S. Mendoza
Indianizing Film: Decolonization, the Andes, and the Question of Technology. By Freya Schiwy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Pp. ix, 282. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Filmography. Index. $24.95 paper.

In this book, Freya Schiwy sets out to study the "boom of Latin American indigenous media" (p. 6), concentrating her inquiries on Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. She is most concerned with the questions of how film technology is used to strengthen local cultures, how women participate and are represented, how current productions differ from earlier ones that attempted to create an "anticolonial gaze," how the video makers negotiate with the global market for multicultural film, and how this medium can contribute [End Page 146] to "a greater understanding of decolonization at the beginning of the twenty-first century" (p. 6). These are indeed ambitious questions, each of which could have become the subject of a book on its own had the author chosen a different kind of methodological approach. Schiwy's inquiry does not privilege a dialogue with the film producers, the actors and the audiences, but focuses much more on analyzing from a series of highly theoretical frameworks the overall discourses that she finds in such creative activity. The book presents interesting information and proposes some valuable hypotheses but I, and probably many other readers, would like to have read much more about the voices and interpretations of the actors to balance that of the author. That would have made it easier to judge the validity of Schiwy's assertions, particularly the ones that have to do with Andean forms of knowledge and cultural principles.

Even though Schiwy is clear that her book "is not an ethnographic study" (p. 26), any investigation that wants to argue its main points from the perspective of the "indigenous" people who seek "decolonization" needs to show more of that perspective and more of the identity of the actors. This would have perhaps helped the author deal with a key issue that, despite all the abundant and sometimes thick theoretical discussion, is hardly present—the author's assumptions and definitions behind the use of the term "indigenous." Throughout the book the terms "indigenous" people and "indigenous" media are central. Who is and who is not an "indigenous" person in her study? By the same token, who is a mestizo? Who defines them? Is an indigenous person the one who speaks a native language or the one who lives in a rural community? Both of these seem to be criteria that she uses. What is the difference between peasants and indigenous people? At times, the author collapses the categories and other times she separates them. As the author acknowledges in a brief discussion of the concept, in the Andes and Latin America at large, "indigenous identity is an unsteady category" (p. 44) and one that has carried negative connotations. How is she using it then? Further, she mentions briefly that "[i]ndigenous movements in the continent have reappropriated the term indio, at least when spoken by those who self-identify as Indian, changing its meaning from a notion akin to the abject to a source of pride," but then continues: "[m]any, nevertheless, prefer to simply emphasize ethnicity: Quechua, Aymara, Guarani, Chiquitano…" (p. 45). Why, then, collapse these people under the term indigenous?

All of this said, I find some of the conclusions provocative and worth follow-up by in-depth studies. An important one is, for example, the suggestion that "the tireless efforts of individual media activists in rural communities, along with low-cost digital video production and screening technology have enabled intercultural communication networks and the creation of audiovisual archives" (p. 214). Also, the concept of "Indianizing film," which is presented very clearly and explicitly (in contrast to her definitions of indigenous people or media), is both sound and useful. For the author, "Indianizing film" is "appropriating an industrial, capitalist, and colonial art form to a cultural politics of decolonization that is critical of capitalism" (p. 209). Deriving from this, her overall conclusion should incite scholars' further inquiries: "indigenous videos offer a way of critical engagement that contributes...


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