Documentaries about Latin America at Sheffield’s 22nd Documentary Film Festival 2015 (Kate Clark/

[Sheffield’s 22nd Documentary Film Festival, held in June 2015, showed over 150 documentaries, including some from Latin America.]

Documentaries about Latin America at Sheffield’s 22nd Documentary Film Festival 2015

Wednesday 24 June 2015, by Kate Clark -

Sheffield’s 22nd Documentary Film Festival, held in June 2015, showed over 150 documentaries, a few from from Latin America.

If we think that film can shine a light on hidden topics, investigate subjects the powers-that-be in our societies would rather we didn’t know about, then this is certainly true of some of the documentaries just screened in Sheffield such as the following four that dealt with issues in Latin America.

'Sunú' is a masterpiece by Mexico’s Sofía Márquez. Beautifully filmed, with huge empathy for the small and medium farmers she shows working their maize fields, 'Sunú' (which means maize in the Mexican indigenous language Rarámuri) reveals the strong resistance to US transnational giant Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seed programme being foisted on them. Mexico’s indigenous farmers produce 65 different kinds of maize, and they are scornful of the poor-quality GM yellow corn the USA produces. “We want them to respect our maize!” one farmer says, pointing out that their problem is not seeds, but the Mexican Government ‘s lack of support for small farmers.

'Landfill Harmonic', directed by Graham Townsley and Brad Allgood, is the story of how a young environmentalist, Favio Chávez had the idea of making musical instruments from items found on the huge Cateura landfill site in Paraguay. Local carpenter Cola Gómez fashions violins, guitars and drums from old boxes, tin cans and pieces of wood and metal, and Chávez teaches his teenage students to play them. After much hard work, the recycled orchestra achieves fame through a viral video. The backdrop is the landfill site, where gancheros eke out a living by collecting items to sell. Right next to it is the shanty town where the orchestra’s kids live, and the polluted stream running through it floods their makeshift dwellings after heavy rain.

An uncomfortable film: on the one hand, you admire the enthusiasm and perseverance of the young teacher and his students and celebrate their success, but on the other you think to yourself, how is it right that poor kids have to play on inferior instruments and moreover, continue to live in such poverty year in year out, whilst at the same time being feted by a famous band like Megadeth and invited to play in front of well-heeled audiences in the US and Europe?

'Pepe Mujica- Lessons from the Flowerbed' is a German film based on interviews with the former Uruguayan President. 25 years ago he and his wife, Lucía Topolansky, now a parliamentary Senator, were still in prison as guerrillas trying to overthrow the dictatorship. A fascinating insight to this unusual man’s ideas: he lives on a ramshackle smallholding, introduced a law to stop the marijuana black market by legalising it and built cheap housing for the poor – and is still popular.

'Tea Time', a film by Chilean director Maite Alberdi, features a group of upper middle class Chilean women who for 60 years have met for monthly tea together. They talk about husbands, other schoolmates, lesbians and gays, and their often outdated comments caused much amusement among Sheffield’s audience. Their dark-skinned maids file silently in and out of the dining rooms bearing trays of delicate sandwiches, cakes and sweets. When one maid makes a mistake, one of the women says: “Well, we can’t expect more from our heroic race, can we?” Interesting that the ladies made no mention of the 1973 military coup and the ensuing years of dictatorship.

Kate Clark is the author of 'Chile in my Heart: A Memoir of Love and Revolution'