A father wants what’s best for his children. In his film Mi Chacra (My Land), director Jason Burlage explores a year in the life of a Peruvian farmer as he struggles to make a better life for his son. Taking top honors at the Banff Mountain Film Festival this documentary feature depicts the world of laborers who divide their time between planting crops and carrying loads for tourists on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
In Spanish with English subtitles Mi Chacra is the story of Feliciano and his wife Locrecia. The young family illustrates the lives of farmers who hope to leave their agrarian existence to find better educational opportunities for their children. But set against the sweeping back drop of the Andes Mountains and fertile fields of their village it’s hard to imagine that their son Royer would be better off going to school in the city.
Feliciano laments having to cut short his own education after his father’s death forced him back to the family farm at the age of 16. With few prospects for a job away from his village he envies the tourists whose careers and complete educations afford them opportunities he desperately wants for his son.
In an objective narrative Burlage allows Feliciano’s story to unfold without commentary. The audience is left to draw its own conclusion as to the quality of this family’s life. But it would seem that compared to working a job in construction or selling potatoes in the market Feliciano makes a good living.
Working six small fields of his own in cooperation with neighboring farmers Feliciano doesn’t seem to realize that he lives in a sustainable community where resources of human energy or ayni are exchanged between farmers instead of currency. Though made to endure backbreaking work he and his neighbors are able to raise enough food to feed themselves and a bit to sell in order to buy the few material things they need.
In the opening scenes Burlage makes a point to inform the audience that nearly half of those who live in Peru’s capital Lima occupy its slums. And in 2007 for the first time in human history more people worldwide live in cities than in the rural countryside. The film Mi Chacra very subtly makes a case for the notion that city life isn’t necessarily the best alternative to agriculture. Perhaps the preservation of the farming traditions Feliciano learned from his father is the best education Royer could receive.
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