A guest post by course alumni and intern, Alex Gasçon.
This blog features news about the people and stories behind the filmmaking initiatives and filmmakers who are part of Kôkôjagõti, a Kayapó-Mebêngôkre media center and collective in the Brazilian Amazon.
My first introduction to the Kôkôjagõti media center was in the summer of 2016 during an anthropological field course. It was made possible by the hard work and ongoing relationships established between Professor Laura Zanotti, Professor Diego Soares, the filmmakers, the community of A’Ukre, and the Associação Floresta Protegida. I had just taken a visual anthropology course that I took as I completed my 3rd year as an undergraduate anthropology student at the University of Concordia in Montreal. As I learned a bit about the media center and the work surrounding it, I quickly realized I’d have to push aside most of what I had learned in class because of the uniqueness of Kôkôjagõti.
I wasn’t looking at photos taken by a Western-trained anthropologists, or watching films created by an anthropological eye. I was looking at the creation of Indigenous media by Indigenous Peoples. This raises an important question; what is the ultimate goal of the different media (films, photos, etc.) that is produced? Perhaps this is a question that can only be adequately answered by a Mebêngôkre-Kayapó filmmaker. However, it is safe to say that the Kôkôjagõti media center, which is a part of the Self Determination in a Digital Age project, is a multi-faceted initiative that aims to provide indigenous filmmakers with the means to express themselves socially, culturally, or politically.
This past summer marked the three-year anniversary of the media center. Since partnering with EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) at Purdue University in 2015, the filmmakers have continued to examine how the media center could become more sustainable and efficient to support the variety of mediamaking activities going on there. This year the EPICS team, working on problems the Mebêngôkre-Kayapó filmmaker identified that year, co-designed an entirely new solar system and a weather resiliency plan. I had the good fortune of being able to facilitate the completion of these and other goals for Kôkôkagõti this summer.
The new solar system was installed over the course of two days on July 17th and 18th by a hired solar technician from Total Energia Solar. Accompanied by the filmmakers, the technician followed the proposed EPICS design as closely as he could, diverting only once or twice due to a restriction of necessary materials on hand. The advantage of the new 6-panel solar system was that it could provide a necessary, efficient and steady source of power for their filming and editing needs. A typical solar setup, which consists of a single panel connected to a car battery and inverter, depleted car batteries at a rate that was unsustainable and also created an extra burden of electronic waste. The idea behind Kôkôjagõti is to empower, not hinder, Kayapó filmmakers thereby demanding the installment of a reliable, and sustainable solar panel system. In a similar vein, the EPICS team designed the weather resiliency plan with the goal of sustainability in mind. Sustainability in design allows for filmmakers to focus on their craft, and allows for resources to be allocated elsewhere. The weather resiliency plan addressed the problems of ‘red dust’ and humidity. Lightweight and relatively cheap, the new weather resiliency plan aims to protect laptops, cameras, and other filmmakers’ equipment through the use of plastic bins, silica packs, neoprene sleeves, humidity monitors, silicone port plugs, and instruction booklets. Due to unforeseen circumstances, not all materials were able to arrive in time. The final step before the weather resiliency plan can go into effect is a workshop explaining the use of each item and why it’s necessary.
I also performed an inventory of all equipment in the media center, which was cross-referenced with the previous year’s list. Knowing what gear the media center has and where it’s located is an important component to running an efficient media center. It informs resource management, and editing and filming capabilities. Mebêngôkre-Kayapó involvement is a crucial part of the completion of these activities because the ultimate goal is that the media center can be fully managed by the Mebêngôkre-Kayapó for the Mebêngôkre-Kayapó. That is to say, if there is an issue with the solar system, they can troubleshoot possible solutions or at least properly shut down the system so no further damage is caused. Coincidentally, due to the success of the media center I did not have a single day in which all ten of the Kôkôkagõti filmmakers were in the village with me. Several of the men filmmakers were spread out between being in the city, at a filming/editing workshop, and in other villages filming cultural celebrations. I was still able to work with several filmmakers in each activity and the summer was a definite success! During the student course, we even had the privilege of having a question and answer session with the women filmmakers and another one with one of the male filmmakers who had just returned from filming in another village. From them, we learned about the importance of the Brazil nut as an economic resource, and that although women filmmakers are eager to film and produce content, they find it difficult to balance domestic and social duties with the new role of being a filmmaker.
The success of Kôkôjagõti is a testament to the hard work, and dedication of the multiple international and national institutions that are involved in the project. It’s exciting to look to the future of Indigenous media when places like Kôkôjagõti exist.
Alex Gasçon graduated with a bachelors degree in anthropology from the University of Concordia in Montreal. He is interested in the role indigenous peoples have in land management, and conservation. This was his third summer in Kayapo Indigenous Territory. Currently based in Maryland Alex is looking into furthering his education while remaining involved with the Kayapo Project.