Though Ismael Saavedra, academic director of SIT Study Abroad’s Bolivia program, has directed dozens of films and documentaries around the world, it took more than 20 years for him to begin telling his own story.
In 1980, Saavedra was imprisoned and subsequently exiled from Bolivia during the dictatorship of Luis Garcia Mesa. He spent the next twenty years creating documentary films about indigenous cultures around the world.
Jiwasa, a documentary film released in 2008, begins with Saavedra’s return to Bolivia in 1999 (the same year he became the academic director of the SIT Study Abroad Bolivia program), and ends with the inauguration of President Evo Morales in 2006. The film includes clips from Saavedra ‘s first trip back to the area where he grew up, cultural festivals, parades and political rallies.
Like much of Saavedra’s work, Jiwasa wraps a personal history inside broader themes of political, economic, and military oppression.
After completing Jiwasa, Saavedra created two more films, 3000 (2009) and 80 (2010) to form a trilogy. 3000 tells the story of a community in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, called Plan 3000, which embodies many of the larger issues that Bolivians face. Initially just 3000 indigenous Bolivian families resettled to the area after a flood in 1983, the city is now overpopulated and citizens lack access to basic utilities, employment opportunities, and ownership of the land they have lived on for over 20 years.
80 begins in 1980, the year of Saavedra’s exile, and investigates Bolivia’s political history during the years he was abroad.
The films have rarely been shown outside of Bolivia, but they have aired on Bolivian state TV, and at various panel discussions in the country. Saavedra hopes that the films will educate Bolivians and others about Bolivian politics and history, and further the discussion about creating social change in Bolivia and abroad.