El Salvadoran film maker Javier Kafie is currently working on a documentary film project called Los Cuatro Puntos Cardinales, which some friends brought to my attention. I will be following his process as he continues his work both out of interest in the project itself, and interest in Kafie as one of many examples of rediscovery of El Salvador by Salvadorans.
I Imagine Javier Kafie will learn more in the process of making his documentary, than he will be able to pack into the film. I was privileged to interview him about what he is finding in his rediscovery of living in El Salvador, and the process of making the film.
Kafie described the time intensive process in an affectionate manner, the way people in a labor of love cannot help but smile through their exhaustion. He is still investing energy and time finding the films exact path. You see, he has taken this on without knowing precisely whose stories, and what specific element of this country will be presented to the audience.
El Salvador has great stories. Huge stories with dramatic contradictions, and tiny stories that would never make it out of a small town, but somehow tug at you to listen. Sad stories, comforting stories. How can you leave with only a few?
La Palma, El Salvador is the site of this first slide-show update for those following his project. La Palma is in the mountains of Chalatenango in the north of the country, near Honduras. This town, famous worldwide for handicrafts is home to the distinctive style associated with the work of Fernando Llort.
Among the things that drew Kafie´s eye to the town are fairly large questions of the relationship between this little town with it´s coops and deep history in regional art, and globalization and mass production which brings Chinese handicrafts into local markets, even in El Salvador.
His eye was drawn to the contrast between La Palma´s ownership of the style and creativity, against making their work to the specs required by international fair trade buyers. The contrast between the coops acceptance of women bringing their children to work, and a rigid interpretation of child labor law.
El Salvador is a wealth of contrast until you soften your eyes to let the images mingle and the story simply be what it is. You cannot argue with the image in front of you and understand it at the same time. I plan to travel to La Palma myself in the near future, but I will still look to storytellers like Kafie to help illuminate what I see.
Below is an excerpt of a short interview with Kafie about the project in La Palma. I will continue to follow his work as he makes this honest film about his El Salvador.
Q: (whatsupelsalvador) How did you choose La Palma as a place to find a story?
A: (Javier) It all started with a report I read from the United Nations last year, describing the struggle of La Palma’s craftwork industry. I had travelled to La Palma before and I knew that it had a long
tradition of handicrafts, perhaps one of the oldest in the country. I thought that, if I wanted to portray El Salvador I had to take this place into consideration, since in many places around the world El Salvador is associated to this kind of craftwork. But I was also attracted by the fact that most craftwork was produced on small family workshops (more than a hundred in the whole town), and I wanted to see how these families stuck to a tradition and tried to live from it instead of trying to make a living in more conventional ways.
At the end, I was interested on the subject of tradition vs. globalization, small family workshops producing little jewelry boxes or other kinds of souvenirs vs. mass produced items from China or elsewhere.
What are some of the reactions people there have to your interest in them as a subject for your project?
Most of the reactions have been positive so far, and I think they all sense that writing about them or filming them is great indirect publicity (at the end, they all try to live from their handcrafts). However, I know that if I go deeper into their story I’ll find some issues which will be definitely problematic.
You see, many of them have been doing this for decades, even during the war. Their handcrafts were emblematic of the Salvadoran Civil War during the 80s, and many people, especially on Europe, bought them thinking that by doing this they would be helping the guerrilla movement. It was until the end of the war, when these buyers started traveling to El Salvador, that they realized that throughout the war ultra right artisans took advantage of the conflict and presented themselves as revolutionaries to sell their handicrafts overseas. So, thousands of people who thought that were helping the revolution were actually helping the other side.Thus, up to these days there are some divisions among the handicraft community, and perhaps that’s something worth researching deeper. But this distances itself from my objective, which is to portray their struggle against globalization, to face the local with the global.
A: From what I’ve seen or heard, they are very satisfied with their ties with all the fair trade companies they work with. And actually, I can’t think of any producer complaining about his of her relationship with fair trade companies. For them the deal is great, since they get a bit of more money for their work, and all the companies ask for is quality. Besides, the work environment is also quite flexible, and mothers are allowed to take their children to work.
While some people think this is wrong, I see it as a positive thing, since in a male chauvinist country like El Salvador women don’t get jobs because they have to take care of their children. And here they’re allowed to work and earn their own money, earning some independence as well.
Q: Does the cooperative regularly give tours of their workshops?
A: As far as I know, they don’t. But they are open to visitors. Actually, I tried to contact them
before I arrived but was unsuccessful. So I just knocked on their door and they were friendly from the very first second. I felt a bit bad that Gregorio – one of the workers in charge of exports and shipping – spent with me most of his morning explaining me their production processes (and saw the pile of work he had on his desk!).
On the other side, one must remember that La Palma is still a pueblo, and people here are not as obsessive with time as in the city. Thus, during my visit many workers took the time to open up and told me their life stories, and I was more than glad, since that’s what I went there for. About the tours, I guess you could contact Gregorio directly, he’ll be more than glad to help you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Background info on the Cuatro Puntos Cardinales documentary project:
El Salvador: Cuatro Puntos Cardinales (The Four Cardinal Points) is a documentary project that aspires to portray stories from northern, southern, eastern and western parts of this Central American country. The objective is to show the cultural, social and ecological diversity of the region – and to create a film that distances itself from media discourses characteristic of Central America often monopolized by violence.
For this, we want to focus mainly on four characters that live – although in the same country – in quite different environments. From surfing communities to coffee plantations, from ex guerrilla-warzones to towns that live almost entirely on handicrafts: in such a small country as El Salvador there’s plenty to see – and many stories to tell.
The final product will have an approximate length of 60 minutes (although we don’t rule out the possibility of making a full-length documentary). At the moment we are on the research stage and during the next weeks I’ll be spending most of my time on locations in order to get documented and to really know the people and surroundings.
My first stop will be the town of Concepción de Ataco, on the western part of the country. Ataco is a colorful little town on the Apaneca mountain range that depends greatly on the coffee market. During the last decade it has experienced a touristic boom and now many foreigners have made Ataco their home. However, many locals can easily tell you how the ups and downs of the coffee market have greatly affected the region over decades.
Next, I plan to visit the municipality of La Palma, in Chalatenango, a department at the northern part of the country. Besides being near to the highest mountain of El Salvador and thus enjoying a great climate, La Palma is known for its handicrafts. The story of how traditional craftworks became a self-organized industry employing hundreds of artisans in this area – even during the Civil War – is exciting and worth telling.
Furthermore, on the eastern part of the country one finds Perquín, a city once dominated by the guerrilla movement. The Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) is still an actual topic in this area since it suffered a great deal through military attacks throughout the conflict. However, their inhabitants – some of which were active fighters – strive to live peacefully, sharing with the visitors stories of all they lived during the war.
And finally, the last stop will be a small community situated on a beach called El Zonte, on the southern part of El Salvador. El Zonte has excellent surfing conditions and this sport has taken over the lifestyle of most of its inhabitants. Interestingly enough, the community is trying to break the pattern by gaining control of the growth produced by tourism. On the other side, multiculturalism is a big theme here, and many humanitarian groups have made El Zonte their base when visiting El Salvador.
thanks for listening and enjoying a fellow expat woman as she explores her new central american home!