Kicking off an archival restitution project: Bolivian Miners’ Cinema

18 February 2024

By Isabel Seguí

The work of a university lecturer feels like a constant contradiction. Teaching and research duties compete; although their weight is similar on the workload spreadsheet, teaching chores often consume most of our time. Don’t get me wrong, service to students is something we enjoy, but research and social engagement are the nourishing practices that fuel academic life, and we must take care of them.  

Well aware of this, amid the Candlemass semester, I have undertaken a short and hectic trip to launch a fascinating project envisioned less than two years ago by a team of three: Dr Miguel Errazu, researcher at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (San Sebastián), Miguel Hilari, Bolivian filmmaker and instructor at Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz, and I.

We aim to restitute the film and document archive of a pilot project of technology transfer in super 8 mm format conducted in 1983 in a Bolivian mine: the Miners’ Film Workshop (MFW). The films have been safeguarded at the French state film archive, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), being the rights holder Ateliers Varan, a documentary filmmaking NGO. Moreover, in the beautiful Parisian headquarters of this association, the documentation related to the workshop’s execution is kept, allowing us to research and reconstruct its history down to the smallest details. Thankfully, at the initiative of Dr Errazu, the Elias Querejeta Film School and Ateliers Varan recently signed an agreement to digitise and catalogue the workshop’s archival materials.  

To kick off the process, our St Andrews-La Paz-Madrid based team gathered in Paris for a one-week train trip Paris-San Sebastián-Madrid, filled with public engagement and academic activities with the help of another key cultural institution in the Iberian Peninsula, Museo Reina Sofía, that had invited us to talk about the Bolivian Miners’ Cinema restitution project. 

The tour started with a screening in the headquarters of Ateliers Varan in Paris, that was surprisingly well attended by a heterogenous audience and followed by a lively discussion and an even more lively cheese and wine potluck. While in Paris, we conducted research at the Inatheque situated within the pharaonic Francoise Mitterrand National Library, and participated in a seminar organised by admired colleagues of the Centre de Recherche en Esthétique des Arts visuels et sonores at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3. 

The second stop was San Sebastián. The three of us carried the heavy bags that contained the workshop’s archive consisting of three folders of documents (over a thousand elements), super 8 mm film reels and U-Matic video copies for TV broadcasting (the original films will be sent by courier from the vaults of the INA further down the preservation process). The objective of our trip to San Sebastián, besides bringing the materials, was to meet the students that will work on the cataloguing of the archive. Students and us together, a team of eight now, received hands-on training on the cataloguing system ISAD(G) (General International Standard Archival Description) delivered by Pablo La Parra, head of research at EQZE and responsible for the archive of San Sebastian International Film Festival (see picture).

The last stop of the tournée was Madrid, where we delivered a three-hour seminar at the Museo Reina Sofía’s Study Programme in Critical Museology, Artistic Research Practices and Cultural Studies. Moreover, the next day, Miguel Hilari curated a series of Bolivian short films of mining topics, including one of his works (Bocamina, 2018), followed by a discussion with the three of us and the co-organiser of the seminar, artist and filmmaker Paloma Polo. Immediately after this last event, Hilari returned to Bolivia, and I came back to Scotland to proceed with the teaching duties.

In the months to come, Errazu and the team of students at EQZE will keep working on the first phase of the project, the digitisation and cataloguing. The project’s second phase, and the critical step allowing the project to go full circle, is the restitution and activation of the archive in Bolivia. This will require further support and I oversee the search for funding in the UK. We started saying that a lecturer’s job has a polar tension between teaching and research, but the polarity multiplies within these roles because research requires fundraising via grant applications. No doubt some miss the ivory tower, lol.

Students and instructor gathered by a table containing archival materials