Guest Blog: Indigenous films on the borders by Arianna Mancini

After attending a conference about the cultural production on the US-Canadian border, I have started considering how the border issues are central to the indigenous film production in North America. The interaction between indigenous people and non-indigenous people across the borders and the kind of films indigenous people produce as a result of that interaction has prompted me to consider the differences and the similarities existing between the indigenous films across the American continent as a whole. In this new scenery, I cannot but include the films made by the indigenous filmmakers in Central and South America and how they contribute to the definition of the border.

In her seminal work Borderlands/La Frontera, Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa explores the many facets of the borders: from the geographical ones that divide the US and Mexico, to cultural borders that separate communities and individuals because of ethnicity, language, religion, and gender.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.”

The idea of a border culture, a Third World deriving from the merging of other countries, reminds me of the “Third Cinema,” i.e. the militant cinema made in the 1960s by a group of filmmakers representing the point of view of the marginalized or oppressed. It derived its name from the concept of Third World and from its search for autonomy from the superpower nations. Culture was an instrument in the hands of a movement which found in the Latin American independent and dissident cinema an important stepping stone.

In the 1960s and 1970s all the indigenous people of the world engaged in anti-colonial and decolonizing battles and profited from the technical revolution following the introduction of the portable shooting instruments using films, and the documentary film in particular, in their political movements.

The first theorization of “Third Cinema” came from the Argentinian filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino who, in their manifesto titled “Towards a Third Cinema,” laid out the salient characteristics of the new militant cinema, i.e. a cinema of emancipation that directly and explicitly fought the system. The film production was a guerrilla activity and, as a consequence, a democratic activity, because the filmmakers documented the daily struggle of the people around them.

The “Third Cinema” represents the most resounding example of the use of the documentary film in social and political struggles and it is what prompted me to explore the South American film production and to include Latino/a studies in my areas of interest.

My background is in Native American literature and cinema, with a particular focus on the documentary films made by the American Indians. For its adherence to reality and for the low production cost, the documentary film has become the most common representative method of telling the stories from the Native point of view. It is an important tool employed by American Indians and First Nations filmmakers to preserve their identity, on the one hand, and to present outside viewers with more authentic images of indigenous America, on the other.

In Latin America a notable example of cinematographical production was the Video in the Villages project, initiated in 1985 by filmmaker Vincent Carelli, through which Brazilian Indians learned to use video to record their traditional culture.

The growing demand by indigenous activists for production control has put the specificities of the indigenous cultures at risk, leading scholars such as Faye Ginsburg to speak of a “Faustian contract.”

The indigenous filmmakers, however, are more and more aware that the visual instruments of communication allow them to create records about their cultures, to exchange cultural information with other cultural groups and to educate non-Natives about their cultural and social issues. Although they rarely reach broad audiences, they cross cultural boundaries and establish a dialogue with Native and non-Native audiences in an attempt to show the power of their culture and identity.


Arianna Mancini, Ph.D.

Contact details: & @aryman

Thanks so much to Arianna for sharing some of her work with us here at The SALSA Collective! If you’re interested in doing a #GuestBlog for us, then get in touch at

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