«Open Pit»: A Documentary about symbolic violence against women

Open pit. A very adequate title to summarize what happens to a whole country in two words, to a country in South America, to a country like ours.
Gabriela Concha is Peruvian, was born and grew up in a mining camp in Moquegua, in southern Peru, which she left at age 17. She studied photography in Lima and lived for some time in New York. A couple of years ago he decided to return to the camp, this time with a camera in hand. The result is this, her first documentary feature film that is in the process of production. It doesn’t cover the well-known problem of mining in Peru, but rather an intimate look at the life that women lead in the mining camp.

Leer aquí la versión en español de esta entrevista.

It’s a study about what is known, but it is not talked about in Peru: It’s the image of a corner particularly well hidden in our cultural subconscious: the symbolic violence towards women. Exemplified in a very particular scenario, by far and very close at the same time.

A place in the middle of nowhere, families, a camp. Men who work for large companies. Waiting women. Children who know, without understanding, the secrets of the great. Unexplained sunsets, one after the other. Women who tolerate. Why do they tolerate? Clean streets and imagined traditions. Routines, so as not to lose the day. Perfect dirt and trees in an uncomfortable harmony. Missing men. Children, absent children. A tacit place to the consciousness of many Peruvians used as a channel to tell a story that, in reality, we all know.

Personally, my opinion regarding mining companies in general is negative. A mining camp like Villa Cuajone, the location of Gabriela’s documentary and where she grew up, is part of the mining industry in Peru, which made it difficult for me to write this note. However, when speaking with Gabriela, I understood that her feature film is alien to any propaganda and focuses rather on an aspect of great urgency for our national reality: the symbolic violence against women and its bases. The main characters of this story are the women and mothers who live in that mining camp, who mostly arrived there following the premise of giving their children a better future. Perhaps, without fully knowing the weight they would have to assume from that premise as a long-term life decision. This is one of the constants that “Open Pit” questions and explores.

Gabriela’s initiative, making this documentary practically alone, putting at stake the stability of her family and that of many others by getting the women of the mining camp to tell their story, as well as the interesting dichotomy that the film presents by embracing the discourse on gender, and at the same time being very close to the mining world, leads us to invite you to support this project, supporting her on her crowdfunding campaign. Up next, we talk extensively with the director:

Gabriela, tell us, what is «Open Pit» about?
It is a documentary about women who have lived more than 30 years in a mining camp. The place seems to promise an ideal lifestyle, but the sense of belonging to space is easily lost due to its stillness and isolation. Living there is like living in a golden cage. «Open pit» is also a story of my relationship with my mother. In the documentary I try to get closer to her and talk honestly about our differences. We also talk about how her upbringing and mine affected us.

The documentary has transformed over time. And now it is going through a critical stage – in a good way – because I am questioning the decisions I made during the process of its realization. For example, by exposing my desire to heal my relationship with my parents, that in turn has made me wonder how far to go when I film my questions. For this reason I also want to reach an audience that is dedicated to documentary filmmaking, or who works similar issues with their families, to question the ethics of the artist and the enormous responsibility that one must carry with their personal projects. What does it mean, for example, «not to betray one’s art»? If by not betraying my art I hurt someone involved in it, my art loses all its value for me.

Who else is this documentary for?
I care to reach families who suffer the consequences of symbolic violence and are not aware of it. I want to raise the question if we want to continue living under a social mandate of masculinity. I trust that the documentary will encourage society to open a much-needed dialogue about this issue.

«Open pit» is also a movie about healing family wounds. Many of us build great walls that separate us from our parents, and vice versa, full of resentment or differences of opinion. Once those walls collapse, many times I have realized that I kept them standing to not feel. The love I feel for my parents is now closer and immeasurable, and that of course is scary, because you know that eventually one of us will stop being here for the others.

How much does the autobiographical aspect encompass in your documentary?
I don’t know if the documentary is entirely autobiographical; I think it’s a story about women and about healing family wounds. Without realizing it at first, the documentary was a pretext to get closer to my parents and solve our conflicts, and finally that ended up shaping the story. I know I wouldn’t have been able to return to the camp without the project in my hands, which generates mixed feelings in me, because I wonder: Why is a camera necessary to heal our wounds? The documentary works like a bridge.

Was the title defined from the beginning?
It was not fixed from the beginning. When I started to go to the camp I was delighted with the cracks I found in the hills, and I didn’t quite know why. It occurred to me, without thinking so much about it, to film myself jumping on one of them like someone who tries to cut the ground open some more. I remember thinking: If this part of the hill is going to fall, let it fall faster. I jumped over the crack many times and at different times of the year, knowing that the gesture was useless.
Some time later I had the opportunity to see the movie «Del verbo amar» by Mary Jiménez. It is an autobiographical documentary of Mary and her mother. If you can get it, watch it, it’s a beauty. In one part of the film, Mary visits the mine where her father used to work. She says: «It’s funny that they call this type of mining ‘tajo abierto’ (open pit), because ‘tajo’ means wound.» When I heard her say that, I thought that giving the documentary the mining type title was perfect because of the meanings it carries between the lines. I saw that my gesture to jump was like an imitation of a larger system that worked the mine and I, like that bigger system, was also breaking in.

What are the main themes of your documentary?
The relationship with my mother: to reconnect with her, to know her beyond her maternal role, which is the only one I know. Even though it is a beautiful part of her, it doesn’t comprise her entire self.
Guilt: The fault in motherhood, which feeds a lot by the male chauvinism that we exercise on ourselves. The guilt that I feel as a daughter having judged my mother, many times, under those beliefs.
In the documentary I also try to get closer to my father. See how these paradigms of violence have affected him.
I also give myself permission to do small «acts», such as jumping on the crack for example, which I feel are healing acts. They are acts that when occur to me and I try to not rationalize.

Let’s move on to production issues. With what means are you making this documentary?
I’m making the documentary with a reflex camera. I have made it alone so far and with few resources. I started filming in the camp about three years ago, going to the beginning every two months and then every four or even six months. I have taken my time.

At what stage is the documentary currently?
I have a lot of compiled material and a clearer idea of the direction of the documentary, but I still need to visit the camp a few more times to complete it. So far, only I have worked in the documentary managing the camera, sound and editing. (With the exception of the video of the crowdfunding campaign, it was edited by a film director in New York). Later, with the help of the campaign, I will be able to count on the advice of people I trust, and have support in the editing and post-production of the film.

You lived many years in that mining camp. When do you realize that the sacrifice of your mother and of the many women who live there is one of the many ways that violence against women can take place?
I realized late, that is, a few years ago. When my sister and I left the camp, my mother had to redefine her identity by having to stay. I say redefine because a big part of her life in the camp was dedicated to her daughters, to raise us and give us everything we needed. It was difficult for her to stay in a secluded place with the empty nest syndrome, being so young.

32 years ago, she had to give up her career and personal goals in order to accommodate a place that followed the traditional parenting model. She made that decision, made a sacrifice for the family. But if we were not there anymore, what was the point of staying in a place that does not allow you to grow? I realized then that even though this situation is nobody’s fault, because she was deciding it like many other mothers, there is a certain degree of responsibility in society when expecting certain determinations or behaviors from a woman and not others: many times exploring your ambitions turns you into a target of criticism if that means not dedicating yourself exclusively to the upbringing of your children, and that does not happen with men. And we also expect responsibilities from men that are not expected from women. Morality based on a masculinity mandate affects everyone.

Was the analysis of one of the many manifestations of violence against women the main objective of your documentary from the beginning?
Yes. And now rather, after years of going to the camp, new layers have emerged in the project where I’m expressing my concern for making a more participatory documentary. I’m now raising some questions about motherhood that can be a bit controversial. An urgency has grown in me to expose the attacks we receive when we decide not to assume the roles that society imposes on us. All this is being raised with great respect, and that is why something beautiful is emerging, full of courage and love.

Where do you think violence against women begins?
Society teaches us to be afraid of femininity. We are afraid of its meaning because it may relate to weakness or homosexuality for homophobes. It would be interesting to know who thought that femininity is related to weakness. And also to know why weakness is seen as negative word.
I’m not sure, but it occurs to me that the leadership of a woman could lock the interests of a society based on a masculinity mandate. (On the concept of «masculinity mandate» Rita Segato has writen a lot). Usually, femininity is related to spontaneity, freedom and emotion. Masculinity is related more to rationality, calculation and control. Interestingly, the world is ruled by greedy and calculating men. A healthy human being, is not.

Do you think that Peru is a scenario particularly prone to the existence of violence against women?
Definitely. Most of my friends and I have been victims of violence in their own houses and on the streets. It scares me to go out alone to walk at night, because I’m afraid of getting raped. I suppose one of the underlying reasons for gender violence here is because most people receive a rather misogynistic religious education. Until recently I thought that gender violence was more prone in underdeveloped countries. But that is not necessarily true. Rich, self-sustaining countries with the best education, like Finland for example, are among the countries with the highest rate of gender violence.

Captura de la película: Grieta tapada, 2015.

Is the cinema another platform that can be lent to exercise a type of violence against women?
Unfortunately film industry, most of the time, has portrayed women with unilateral stereotypes. The female character in a movie often ends up being «the girl», that is, «the other», and there is no effort to show our complexity. I feel deep sorrow for the ignorance held in portraying us as characters with the same dumb stereotypes, and think about the enormous responsibility that those filmmakers carry before young people who absorb those stereotypes as a truth. Cinema influences what we think of the world. It is important female filmmakers receive more support, because we do not fall into that game.

What do you think about the role of mining in Peru in general, and in communities and towns, as in the case of your documentary, in particular?
I have a family directly related to a mining company; my father works for one. I prefer to keep my personal position, since I belong to that structure, to that entity that created me in a way. What I can tell you though is that I think it’s important to ask ourselves if these are the real structures we want to live for. There are valuable projects on the role of mining in Peru that I admire and respect, but the topic that I am interested in working with, and which has been a personal initiative from the beginning, is the women who live in the camp. They are the protagonists of this story.

And finally, who is Gabriela Concha?
This question makes me nervous. This year I’m turning 30 years old and I still don’t know how to answer to that question. What I can tell you is that I am currently going through a very intense creative stage. I am a photographer by profession. In my previous projects it has always been important for me to work with an already solved idea. That was easy for me because I thought working that way would not risk disappointing myself. Some years ago, however, I decided to approach the medium of photography in a different way, combining it with video and writing in a more intuitive way, and that’s how «Open Pit» project came about. I believe that this decision has changed me forever. I am embracing a new way of seeing art, and at the same time, the way of living my life in general.

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