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Art Center for Digital Cultures & Technology



Daniel A. Swarthnas (Cinema Parenthèse)

Peru | 1988 | 16mm | color | sound | 62'00
Two trips were made to Peru for a total of seven months living and filming in two Asháninka villages. The film is structured into a series of days with the progression of days leading into a growing involvement with the central family of the film.

The aim was to enter the Asháninka culture and use the camera in such a way that the Indian personality, the side usually kept hidden to the outside, begins to become visible. This is an important factor when understanding the reclusive nature of the people, for the Asháninka are extremely reluctant to expose their traditions, beliefs, and feelings. They are a shrewd people, not necessarily well-disposed to accommodating the activities of strangers.

The Asháninka live in the tropical forest of eastern Peru, a region of lush vegetation and rugged terrain. Turbulent rivers carve through and eventually flow north to form the Amazon. Early missionaries and traders found their way in on these rivers but in 1742 the Indians rose up against outside influences. They stood on the shores with bows and arrows killing all white people and no others where allowed to enter the region for nearly 200 years. By the 1900s Indian resistance had fragmented and was finally broken by Peruvian soldiers and aggressive rubber merchants. As a result of this long period of isolation the Asháninka were able to maintain a strong sense of their Indian identity, keeping the culture relatively intact into the 20th century.

Referring to the good spirits that abound in the sky and on Earth, one man says:

They flash, they all flash, that is, they are the hidden ones. Do you see them when they flash? We don't see them. How might they be our eyes?

  • Diane Kitchen

Peru | 1992 | 16mm | color | sound | 23'00
Filmed on a return visit with the Asháninka in the tropical forest of eastern Peru. Moving in close to people who still live with the land, cook over fires, and raise their children in the forest. Earth, river, animals, weather. Forces of nature and of turmoil. Forces that surround the senses at all times.

  • Diane Kitchen

"Filmmaker Diane Kitchen is creating a new, complex style of ethnographic film, one that is visually rich and conceptually thick, one the emphasizes intimacy, lyricism, metaphor, and sometimes startling images drawn from her subjects' daily lives. Filmed among the Asháninka people of Eastern Peru, it shifts between their fears connected with day-to-day living and those brought on by Peru's current political turmoil (the Shining Path guerrillas carry out night-time terrorist raids on Asháninka villages)." - Extension Media Center, Univ. of California-Berkeley

Total 85'00

DIANE KITCHEN (Scholar, Lecturer and Filmmaker) retired from UWM in 2011 after teaching in the Peck School of the Arts Film Department for 27 years. She taught film production, editing and sound with an emphasis on experimental approaches, cross- cultural aesthetics, and forms of perception illumined through the moving image. Kitchen also managed UWM’s Cinema Arts Archive from 1995 to 2011.

Her work in film bridges documentary, personal expression and cultural commentary. Two experimental documentaries, "Before We Knew Nothing" and "Roots, Thorns", were filmed with the Asháninka people in the Amazon Basin of eastern Peru. A series of films centering on observations of the natural world include "Wot the Ancient Sod", "Notch", "Quick’s Thicket", "Ecstatic Vessels", and "Videe". "The Penfield Road" and Horse Song address the American cultural landscape.

Before We Knew Nothing