ADVENTURES IN FILM : URBAN MYTHS IN BOLIVIA AREN'T ACTUALLY MYTHS

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When I first arrived in Bolivia, I heard a story I couldn't believe was real so I checked around the Internet for articles. Surely someone must’ve been caught at some point?  No, nothing, not a peep. The story went like this.... it’s fairly common practice for builders, with the involvement of an architect, under a friendly guise, to find an alcoholic from the streets and invite them to drink with them. They would then go to the construction site and give them food, with lots and lots of alcohol. They would get the homeless guy to drink ‘til he passed out, even forcing drink on him. Once the guy is passed out or unable to move, they would put him in the foundations of the construction and bury them alive; a sacrifice to strengthen the building. The building  would then be built on top of this sacrificed man. 

This legend changed my whole outlook of the place. As I journeyed through the city, all of the high-rises were like tombstones for some poor alcoholic. But what a tombstone! A tombstone with people living inside it. Over time I would hear more and more stories, versions differing from person to person. I tried to dig deeper when I heard them... WHO told you, who is this person, do they know someone who has done it? I never got too deep but then I heard two stories which seemed to solidify the story a lot more, as fact. A friend's friend, a young guy, heavy drinker, would go drinking in an area renowned for alcoholics congregating there to drink together. The group he was with disbanded as they got drunk, people started to trail off and by the end, his group was gone, and he was with others he didn't know, who were inviting him to drink. He realised they were going to take him, that they were builders, or people who knew builders (in the video, they are paid by the builders to procure someone). Luckily, he managed to escape.

Another friend told me about her father, who’d told her very nervously one day about his own experience. He’s an architect and one day witnessed his builders, at night, take a guy into the site to bury him. He said that the man was already dead, and they told him not to worry, that it's normal. But still, though I’ve never seen hard proof, it seems unlikely so many people have heard these stories had it not come from some sort of truth. Most people I speak to about it understand it as an urban legend, but one that is undoubtedly based on real events. They use llama foetuses for smaller buildings such as houses for example. There is also a story that one of the bridges in La Paz fell down, one that wasn’t built on sacrifice. So when they re-built it, they put a man inside either end of the bridge, like two standing guards frozen in position into the cement.

The story struck me as this weird underground story of a sort of Jesus Christ. A man who is taken and sacrificed for the supposed good of the many. His crucifix a high-rise tower block of apartments.

Working out the kidknappers meeting scene.

The story itself was perfect for a music video as it had such a clear narrative journey that could be told in a short amount of time. But I hadn't gotten any tracks for which it worked, then Seekae's manager Jo Gray (Borden Management) contacted me. I was really blown away by the music, and instantly remembered the human sacrifice idea; I ran it around my head as I listened the music and it stuck perfectly. Jo and the band loved the idea. What was interesting was that the original track I got had some contrast to the idea, it wasn't as dark as the idea was, which worked well, but then they sent me the mixed version, just before the shoot. At first I got really worried, it was so different. Then listened more and more, and it was as if the mix was created specifically for the idea, which it wasn't of course. But by coincidence it was far darker with a much deeper sound, and even had this weird metallic sound right on the bit where they are digging up the dirt with the metal shovels, and this classical strings section during the burial, it went even better with the story.

BAD BOYZ

 

The previous videos shot in Bolivia are all fiction, apart from Landshapes of course, but that was still filming real situations which we controlled a little. This time we were recreating an urban legend all Bolivians know about. I had the constant worry of filming something a Bolivian might watch and not buy into, a worry I didn't have as much of in previous shoots. But now a big part of my audience are of course Bolivian and are watching out for my new work. I also knew I had the incredible Color Monster team behind me who would point out if anything didn't seem genuine, or should be done a different way. The finest example is finding out that alcoholics here would be drinking pure alcohol bought from a pharmacy, they don't go around with a bottle of vodka in a brown paper bag here.

So the actors were key also. The main alcoholic was an actor I met in a previous video I did here, and always remembered him from the casting session we did, in the way he could switch so quickly into a completely different character. He's called Winer Zeballos and was incredible in the audition. The main kidnapper was the clown who’s looking in a bin in the Cloud Control video, and suggested by our producer Cami. I loved how his teeth are vampire-like, as his character itself is a vampire of sorts, and it goes without saying how brilliant he was pulling off this role. I then also called up a guy I met in Cochabamba who I met whilst tripping on San Pedro

Winner!

We went into this tropical style restaurant which had tacky decor and what seemed like a strange mix of people inside. One man looked like Christopher Walken just before he dies, then this other man's face seemed to  change each time I looked at him, as if it was melting from the candle on his table. Then there was a German group who looked so out of place, and by our side, was  John Connor from Terminator 2. At least I was convinced it was the Latino re-incarnation of him. I couldn't stop staring. I also didn't have the balls to ask him for his contact details for future castings, so when we left I almost sent myself on a bad trip due to the regret of not getting his contact. But the next day just before leaving to go back, he walked past the bar I was outside of, so I walked up to him and explained about a casting I was doing and it turned out that his girlfriend had seen all my videos.

Unfortunately he bailed the day before the shoot due to work commitments. Luckily my friend Diego Terrazas was up for it, and he was excellent in playing the silently dark type who doesn't even pretend to like the alcoholic. There is then Alejandro Viviani who played the longhaired gang member with an excellent kookiness! An actress called Mariela Salaverry was the bride, managing to learn the lyrics at double speed with them dropping out in order for the speed ramps to work. Lastly there was the best-named guy ever, Zenon, and our DIT Cristian Morales who did our back up then jumped back into the scene for shooting!  So they all came to the casting and fit like a glove into their characters, we didn't even bother doing another casting session, a big weight fell off my shoulders after that.

Budget version shot of the monolith on the moon in 2001: Space Odyssey

 

I've managed to leave it so long in writing this up that I've forgotten a lot of the details of the shoot I would have written about! But one that I won't forget is how the architect somehow agreed to us recreating a murder scene on his construction site. He stayed for most of the shoot watching with a smile. A knowing smile? I'll never know. 

‘Another’ was the last video I did before returning to London. I thought it would be a big shock but I stopped off in Argentina before London, so Buenos Aires acted as this sort of cultural decompression chamber. I went from the wild west of Bolivia to the metropolitan city of Buenos Aires which is basically like being in Europe which was a massive shock, but what an amazing city.

Cold...

 

London has been incredible and surreal. I had a few dreams whilst in Bolivia where I couldn't find my way around, as if a tourist in my own city. This came true a few times, though in my dream I was doing a visit as social worker to a retired Michael Caine in his council flat.

I'm looking forward to going back in a couple weeks and will be very sad to leave London again, but I suppose this will probably be an ongoing emotion due to yoyo-ing between the two places. La Paz is around the corner though now, and Evo Morales' daughter tweeted the La La La video, so maybe there's a government position waiting for me. I just hope they didn't see the Seekae video.

 

WORDS: IAN PONS JEWELL

PHOTOS:  MICHAEL DUNN CACERES

www.facebook.com/seekaemusic

 


 

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