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Film Catalog » Subject Areas » Environmental Issues » Voices of the Sierra Tarahumara

Voices of the Sierra Tarahumara

Voices of the Sierra Tarahumara - Image Produced by Robert Brewster,Felix Gehm.
51 min. Color. 2001.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: No
Catalog #: 0128
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Sale Price: $295.00 Buy VHS Buy DVD

This powerful and eye-opening documentary takes up where films like Traffic leave off. It examines the plight of the indigenous Tarahumara people of northern Mexico, who are oppressed by criminal drug lords and and trapped in a web of rampant deforestation, crippling drug wars, and governmental corruption. In the booming post-NAFTA Mexican economy, the overlapping interests of the World Bank and the drug cartels threaten to change forever one of the most traditional cultures in the Americas.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, this extraordinary film blends murder mystery, keen ethnographic observation, and courageous undercover investigative reporting to demonstrate how issues of racism, international development policies, judicial and police corruption, and the failed War on Drugs surround the public assassination of an important Tarahumara leader and human rights advocate.

The Tarahumara are poor subsistence farmers who live in isolated villages in the rugged Sierra hillsides and canyons about 300 miles south of Texas, in a large area known as the Copper Canyon. In the 1990s a World Bank forestry project began building logging roads into some of the last old-growth forests in the region. Seizing this opportunity, drug lords began a campaign of terror and murder against the Tarahumara, stealing their lands to sell to loggers and forcing the Tarahumara to grow marijuana and opium for them. Native people who resist or speak out against the "narcotrafficantes" are murdered or threatened with death.

But Edwin Bustillos, an outside human rights organizer, and a group of indigenous leaders vow to fight back. Working with Federal Attorney General Teresa Jardi, they risk their lives to gather witness statements and attempt to stop the wave of violence and land takeovers. But when a local drug boss who is implicated in the murders of more than a dozen Tarahumara leaders is indicted, he receives a full pardon in advance from a Federal judge and becomes immune from prosecution....

"Voices of the Sierra Tarahumara" will provide a wealth of relevant material and inspire passionate discussion in a wide range of courses in Latin American studies, cultural anthropology, development and Third-world studies, and environmental issues. It was produced by Robert Brewster and Felix Gehm.


"This extraordinary and courageous documentary opens up for students a rare window onto one of the largest and most remote indigenous groups in Mexico. Most importantly, it allows students to visualize at an intimate level the conflicts and the prospects for the land and people of this embattled territory. In two decades of research, writing, and teaching about the Tarahumara people I have not encountered anything better than this impressive work for conveying to students the exigencies with which many Tarahumara must now cope on a daily basis. Avoiding the romanticism as well as sensationalist hyperbole that pervades many reports of these problems, this film instead portrays, through textured interviews and rich cinematography, both heroes and casualties in these conflicts. By hearing multiple perspectives -- from human rights activists, environmental workers, government officials, and indigenous people themselves -- viewers learn the ways in which complex and often contradictory forces are transforming the Tarahumara into hostages within their own homelands. This is an invaluable educational aid to anyone wishing to learn more about the cultures and controversies in this vast but little understood region of Mexico." -- Jerome M. Levi, Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology, Carleton College


  • Sundance Film Festival Official Selection
  • American Anthropological Assn. selection
  • "Best Cultural Documentary," MountainFilm Festival (Telluride)
  • First People's Film Festival (Montreal) honoree
  • Arizona Intl. Film Festival honoree
  • Newport Beach Film Festival honoree
  • Zakynthos (Greece) Environmental Film Festival honoree

Additional Material

For additional information, please go to http://www.sierratarahumara.com/



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