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La Buena Vida (The Good Life), or the dark side of progress

Causing the forced displacement of an entire community from its land in Colombia by switching on the light in Europe: it’s a streamlined example of butterfly effect, where apparently small actions can cause large effects. Unfortunately, the comforts of progress and the “good life” we are enjoying are contributing factors to make these kind of extreme and ethically controversial paradoxes acceptable.

I am German. German energy producers like RWE, EnBw, Eon, Steag and Vattenfall buy large amounts of coal from Colombia in order to produce and sell electricity” the director Jens Schanze states, while we’re asking him some questions about La Buena Vida. The Good Life”, a documentary film winner of the Grand Prix at Festival Fredd 2016, member of the Green Film Network. “It’s the electricity that makes our life comfortable. We enjoy light, heat, speed. I wanted to make that close connection between our lives and the lives of the people in Tamaquito visible”.

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That’s why he decided to realize the film in Tamaquito, a village in the forests of Northern Colombia. Here for centuries nature provided the people with everything they needed to survive. But the Wayúu community’s way of life is being destroyed by the El Cerrejón: this vast chasm extends for 700 square kilometres, making it the world’s largest open-cast coal mine. Determined to save his community from the forced displacement which has already swept away other villages, Jairo Fuentes sets out to negotiate with the mine’s operators. They’re backed by powerful commodity companies such as Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton, which promise the villagers the blessings of progress and the so-called better life.

la buena vida 03The young leader of the Wayúu community Jairo Fuentes

During the research, we visited 13 villages in Colombia’s mining area” the director tells us. “The psychological condition of the villagers affected by coal mining was shocking. They were distraught, paralysed by a feeling of powerlessness thanks to the mining companies’ often ruthless, even criminal, behaviour. They were suffering the consequences of the mining: dust, noise, water shortages and resultant crop losses, along with the threat of losing their homes and land. What’s more, people everywhere had lost their sense of togetherness”. In Tamaquito the mood was completely different, though it was facing as many threats as the other villages. “There were no signs of resignation. The community seemed strong and self-confident. This community gives us an extraordinary example of solidarity, of dignity, of pacifism, of spirituality and of cultural identity. In our world, we have already lost many of these qualities and capabilities, maybe even all of them, to a large extend.

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The ones in charge of the narration are actions, meetings and the discussions among the characters. “We started filming in the Wayuu community of Tamaquito in Colombia about 8 months before the whole village was resettled. The negotiations were in their crucial phase. We assumed that the story would reveal itself and decided not to do any interviews. We wanted to tell the story from the villager’s point of view and they offered us to live with them during the four shooting periods. Our aim was to focus on the immediacy of the course of events give the audience the opportunity to live through the situations that the Wayuu experience in that difficult and dramatic process of losing their ancestral territory. I wanted to make the audience witnessing the incredible injustice of the situation and the unbelievable dignity that is inherent in the behaviour of the Wayuu people. Reflecting or explanatory interviews or even a narrator would, in my view, interrupt the natural dramaturgical flow of storytelling”.

Jens_Schanze_LaBuenaVida_©Sebastian_EngbrocksThe director Jens Schanze

The result is a story that images manage to show with strength, immediacy and effectiveness. “A film can have a great impact on the life of a person. We identify ourselves with Jairo, the young, courageous and charismatic leader of Tamaquito. At the same time we realize that the employees of the mining company represent our own way of life and of thinking in the so called developed world. That’s a dilemma”.

From this point of view, the film reveals a sad report: through the mining of coal and other natural resources about 1,5 million people are forced to move every year, as the annual electricity consumption per person in the world’s wealthy regions equals approximately 2,7 tons of coal. Nevertheless, these kind of data can have the power to change things on the other hand. As the director concludes: “My hope is that the energy of these strong emotions empowers the audience to take action within their own lives. I hope people start to question their way of life in a very broad sense. Maybe some of them change their energy supplier or their bank or simply make efforts to consume less. Less of everything”. In a more responsible way.