Filmmaker Violeta Ayala Explains the Societal Relevance of Her Latest Doc, ‘The Bolivian Case’
Filmmaker and activist, Violeta Ayala drew attention and global acclaim a few years ago when she and Daniel Fallshaw, her husband and frequent collaborator, unleashed the fascinatingly controversial documentary, Stolen (2009). The film garnered heightened recognition due to its potent subject matter, as it lifted the heavy veil that long concealed the devastating realization of human trafficking in Sub-Sahara Africa.
I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Ayala and Fallshaw right before the film debuted, it was an intensely passionate conversation as they each doled out their testimonies of what they had encountered while on the mission of exposing the ongoing slave trade that was incredibly still thriving without much interference from organizations like The U.N. – despite the supposed outline to protect and promote the value of human rights.
The characteristics that come with bravely pursuing the truth without any tolerance for timidity is what makes Ayala thrive in a world that very few are able to seamlessly navigate. The consequences can be affectingly cumbersome but the end result outweighs the convenience of exposing the inconvenient truths.
That explains why Ayala’s offering The Bolivian Case is explicably relevant as it follows the story of three girls of Norwegian descent, who find themselves in a judicial nightmare after they are caught with 22 kg of cocaine in their luggage at the airport. What follows after their arrest is a searing illustration of how the media and the public at large join forces to create diluted representations of each of the girls based on vividly biased interpretations that tragically configure the fates of those accused.
The film is enjoying the benefits of the festival circuits – notably the Canadian International Documentary Festival as well as the full support of Kickstarter.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to catch up with Ayala to find out how and why The Bolivian Case is one of her for most impactful projects to date.
MTB: How did you initially get involved in this project and what sparked your interest in the subject matter?
VA: I first heard about the case while showing our last film in Norway. When the three Norwegian girls were caught with 22kg of cocaine, it intrigued me that in the Norwegian press, the girl with the Latin surname was singled out as a stereotypical drug trafficker. The only real evidence in the case was that each girl was caught with 7kg of cocaine hidden in her luggage.
In Feb 2011, I went to Bolivia and met two of the girls – Stina and Madelaine – in San Sebastian women’s prison. Their story sparked my curiosity, and following my filmmaker’s nose, I decided to begin filming the girls. THE BOLIVIAN CASE is the first part of a trilogy I’m making about the War on Drugs. The second part, COCAINE PRISON, is in post production and SOUTH MEETS NORTH, the last part, is in development. The War on Drugs is the world’s biggest problem – it affects everyone. But we, the people of color, are the ones getting the raw end of the deal.
MTB: We are now embodying a time that suggests that racial and gender discrimination is still a driving force in every societal realm. Your film seems to capture this sentiment. How did you achieve this so seamlessly?
VA: It took us four years to make the film. I like to tell stories in all of their complexity, but I avoid turning them into an essay. Films for me have to be entertaining and challenging at the same time. I believe THE BOLIVIAN CASE is a microcosm of what’s going on today within judicial systems around the world where justice is determined by race and class. And as our story shows, this is true even in Norway, a country that is held up as a bastion of justice and freedom of expression.
I believe the US is one of the few countries where the discussion of racial and gender discrimination is gaining momentum. This film breaks all stereotypes: a female filmmaker from the south goes and questions the judicial system of the richest country in the world, following the country’s most publicized drug busts in a very human way.
MTB: What makes this case so captivating and how do you think it accurately represents the breakdown of the judicial system when it comes to the appropriate execution of justice?
VA: We are not questioning the guilt of the protagonists, but we are questioning the system which let some of them get away with it. The story is really frustrating. Why, of the 8 teenagers involved, are the ones with a Latin background paying the highest price? Followed closely by those from lower classes with broken homes who may or may not have tattoos! Meanwhile, the white kids with money are given a second chance.
The universality of The War on Drugs is that, everywhere, it targets the most vulnerable: the drug addicts or drug mules. They’re seen as criminals, yet the worldwide economy runs on drug money. No one cares about finding the truth and/or catching that big fish – the justice system is all about money, race and class. How many black people, latinos and minorities are put in jail everyday for drug dealing? And yet there’s more drug consumption today than there ever was 40 years ago, back when this war began.
Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador – the countries that produce cocaine – are suffering the consequences of this craziness. The situation in Mexico and the violence created by The Drug War is intolerable. Now look at Asia… Just a couple of weeks ago, 8 drug mules were executed. Where did they all come from? Nigeria, Brazil and two Australians. And guess what? Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were Australians of color, victimized by the Australian media just as Madelaine Rodriguez is victimized by the Norwegian media.