Venezuela: Barber ‘Filmmaker' Finds Success for $100

By Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Apr 27 (IPS) - The most sought-after film at hundreds of stands offering pirate DVDs and videos in the Venezuelan capital is a film that had a total production cost of less than 100 dollars.

The two-hour film, "Azotes de barrio en Petare", depicts the lives of adults, youths and children caught up in a spiral of violence between two rival gangs in the poor district of Petare on the east side of Caracas, which encompasses dozens of slums perched precariously on the hills bordering the city.

The plot, at times fast-paced and at other times dragging, involves robberies, shootings, bloodshed, drugs, domestic violence, police corruption, obscenity and death, set in the hazardous narrow streets of Petare.

The blood used in the film was actually tomato sauce, and the bullet holes in the bodies were made with mud. Firecrackers were used to simulate shooting, the cocaine was just flour, and the "actors" were not actors, but friends of the filmmaker - who is not a professional filmmaker, but a 23-year-old barber, Jackson Gutiérrez.

"Every day I shave around 20 guys in La Veguita (a neighbourhood in Petare) and I hear an average of five stories a day of violent incidents: that they killed so-and-so's brother last night, or what's his name's uncle," Gutiérrez told IPS.

"A film began to take shape in my mind where these same people would talk openly, and say whatever they wanted, in their own words," and "without a screenplay and without knowing anything about filmmaking, relatives and friends of mine from the neighbourhood and I just started making the film," he added.

The film turned out to be so vivid and real that many of the spectators thought they were watching a documentary, featuring real thieves, drug addicts and murderers.

But "that's not true," said Gutiérrez. "When they started to say that, I tried to show the media the people who appeared ‘dead' in the film."

His aim in making the film, he said, was "to draw attention to the violence and lack of safety in poor areas" of Caracas, one of the most violent cities in Latin America.

Since February, the film has been selling like hot cakes in street stalls. An announcement by the public prosecutor's office that it would investigate the alleged illegal participation of minors in the film, and rumours that it would be banned and all copies would be confiscated, merely fuelled sales.

Producing the movie cost around 200,000 bolivars (less than 100 dollars), reported Gutiérrez. A copy can be purchased for two dollars, and usually includes another violence-packed film on the same disc.

What Gutiérrez has achieved "is important, it's a show of inspiration from a people who cannot be silenced," declared Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz.

Jakubowicz is the director of "Secuestro Express", a movie about the increasingly frequent crime of short-term kidnappings for ransom that broke Venezuelan box office records in 2005, while drawing fierce criticism from the authorities for its less than flattering portrayal of the country's militarised police.

"We have to celebrate this expression of community filmmaking in the barrios," said César Cortez of the Documentary Film School of Caracas.

Cortez is serving as an adviser to a group that was formed around Gutiérrez to improve "Azotes de barrio en Petare" and is now working on a new movie, "Pagan justos por pecadores" ("the just must pay for the sinners", a Spanish proverb) which also addresses the theme of urban violence.

Sociologist Verónica Zubillaga commented to IPS that "people feel a need to verbalise, to externalise the problem of violence. That is why people identify with the film."

She mentioned a scene where two police officers shoot two criminals in the back, take their guns and walk away as if nothing has happened. "This gives an idea of how the police forces have deteriorated," she added.

The weeks in which "Azotes de barrio en Petare" was the talk of the town coincided with a series of crimes that shook the country.

First an Italian-born businessman was kidnapped and killed within hours, apparently for refusing to cooperate with his abductors.

Shortly afterwards, three young Canadian-Venezuelan brothers - aged 12, 13 and 17 - and the family's driver were murdered after being held captive for 40 days, and their bodies dumped in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Caracas. One of the men arrested and charged with the crime is himself only 18 years old.

Massive rallies erupted in Caracas after the discovery of their bodies, with protesters demanding greater efforts to curb crime and violence. A press photographer was shot and killed by an unknown assailant while covering the demonstrations.

Both active and retired police officers from different municipal and regional forces have been implicated in these and numerous other crimes.

In Venezuela, a country of 26.5 million people, judicial authorities stopped releasing homicide statistics when the total reached over 11,000 in 2003. Some experts estimate that more than 13,000 people were murdered nationwide last year. (END/2006)

Source IPS News