DER Documentary

Ajishama, The White Ibis


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by John Dickinson
color, 85 min, 2003




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Shot in Venezuela over a 30-year period, this documentary depicts the life and work of José Maria Korta, the controversial Jesuit Missionary with the indigenous people of the Amazon. Korta was born in 1929 in San Sebastian. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and then joined the Jesuit Order after World War II.

Korta was inspired by the Jesuit Missions mandate to help Amazonian indigenous groups. Eventually, with the permission of the local Salesian missionaries, he joined the Makiritare tribe in the remote upper Ventuari Amazon Territory to initiate economic self-development projects.

The Indians were very enthusiastic about, and extremely successful in Korta's self-development project. They produced honey and meat, managed their own transport systems and participated in a broad based marketing co-op called CEPAI. The success of this venture caused jealousy among the Salesians. José Korta upset the other missions because he became uninterested in preaching Christianity and forcing the Indians to give up their practices.

The Indians at times mismanaged their new resources as they found themselves unprepared for the increased contact with the outside world. In 1990 Korta realized that although CEPAI had gone a long way to solve some of the economic problems particularly in the Amazon basin, it had not addressed general cultural issues.

Korta decided that a new plan was needed that incorporated education, reflection, development of new institutions and acknowledgement of culture. Together with the Indians he set-up a school at Yarikajé and a meeting center at Tauca where they could establish their new political organization.

Most recently the work at Tauca involves creating the basis for an Indigenous University, with Spanish speaking students coming from different ethnic groups. These groups included the Yaruru, Yekuana (Makiritare), Sanema and Panare. The development of Korta's work is depicted in the film.

The Tauca Indigenous University has been contested by some Jesuits, the Salesians and also the national educational establishment but it is taking on enormous importance to indigenous communities south of the Orinoco.

This documentary is recommended for study in: Anthropology, Latin American Studies, International Development Studies, Religion, Education, Economics, Indigenous Rights, and Cultural Survival.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
3 Continents International Documentary Film Festival, South Africa, 2003
Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropological Association Conference, Chicago, 2003
Honorable Mention – Social Justice Category, EarthVision 2003 Environmental Film & Video Festival, Santa Cruz, CA, 2003
Havanna Film Festival, 2003
Third Hispanoamerican Independent Documentary Festival, Mexico, 2004
Cartagena International Film Festival, Columbia, 2004

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