Latin America & Caribbean

Ecuador's new wave of films focuses on migration

Prometeo Deportado still of people trying to squeeze out of the waiting room at the airport
Image caption Prometeo Deportado is one of the films that examines how migration has affected Ecuadorean society

A plane from Ecuador lands in Europe. Those carrying European passports go quickly through migration, while the queue of Ecuadorians does not move.

They are questioned at length, as their luggage is scanned. Eventually their passports are taken away, and they are all moved to a waiting room without any explanation.

This is the beginning of Prometeo Deportado (Promotheus, Deported), an Ecuadorean film currently showing in the country's cinemas.

It is also the nightmare of many travellers upon entering Europe - a nightmare that became reality for Fernando Mieles, the film's director.

In 1993, after finishing his cinema studies in Cuba, he was offered the opportunity to become part of a team of scriptwriters in Portugal.

Mr Mieles sold all of his belongings without waiting for any confirmation, and bought a one-way ticket to Spain, from where he planned to travel to Portugal.

When he landed, he was asked for his return ticket, told he could not enter the country and deported.

While Prometeo Deportado is not autobiographical, Mr Mieles's experience of deportation forms a key part of the film.

For example, there are no sources of natural light in the waiting room to help convey the feeling of imprisonment and confusion, says Mr Mieles.

"In that situation, you can't explain a lot of things," he says.

"The only impression you have is that you're not a person, but a number in a passport, and if your passport disappears, you can disappear too."

Economic exodus

Unlike other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil or Mexico, Ecuador is not internationally known for its films, but this past year has been prolific for Ecuadorean cinema.

Image caption Some three million Ecuadoreans are estimated to live and work abroad

Prometeo Deportado is one of three films by Ecuadorean directors currently showing across the country. And all three handle the same topic: migration.

Following a huge financial crisis at the end of the 1990s, thousands of Ecuadoreans were forced to leave their country and seek fortune abroad, mostly in the US, Spain and Italy.

According to the government, three million Ecuadoreans currently live abroad - 22% of the country's entire population.

Migration is an important phenomenon in the country, yet until recently it was not widely discussed. The success these three films are having seems to show a change in attitude.

Prometeo Deportado keeps its location vague - an airport somewhere in Europe, but it is unclear where exactly. The official language at the airport is Spanish spoken backwards and in different accents to increase disorientation.

This style contrasts with that of Rabia, by Sebastian Cordero, which is a psychological thriller with a very specific setting.

Rabia tells the story of two Latin American immigrants in Spain. At the beginning of the film, Jose Maria, who works in construction, gets in a fight with his boss and kills him in circumstances that leave it unclear as to whether it was deliberate or accidental.

Jose Maria, an illegal immigrant, hides in a mansion where Rosa, his girlfriend, works as a live-in maid, but does not let her know he is there.

"It's the story of a character that lives in the shadows, in parallel to another society," says Mr Cordero, one of Ecuador's most prominent film-makers who has already won several prizes for Rabia.

"Something that always strikes me in Europe and in the US is that you have two worlds co-existing. You have people from Spain, for example, who are first-class citizens, and then you have almost an invisible world in parallel to that one," says Mr Cordero.

We're all migrants

The third film is a much less sophisticated production; it is the spin-off of a famous TV show, but it has been just as popular as the other two.

Carl West's Zuquillo Express is a comedy that handles a very serious topic - human smuggling.

Image caption The issues of migration are now being discussed in Ecuador

The four main characters in the film try to make it to the US by paying a coyote - a smuggler who takes people across the US border.

This is a heartfelt topic in the region and one that gained added significance earlier this year when it emerged that three people, including an Ecuadorean teenager, survived a massacre of 72 illegal immigrants in Mexico.

The group was trying to reach the US with the help of a coyote.

"[Migration] has been the most important experience - sociologically, culturally, emotionally, economically - for Ecuador in the last 15 years," says Oderay Game, Prometeo Deportado's producer.

"I think we hadn't talked about it much so far. But it's a reality, and movies work with reality. If you talk about Serbia at a certain time, they were making movies about war, and in Colombia, about violence. Maybe it's finally the moment to talk about migration here."

Since President Rafael Correa came to power in 2007, the government has worked on raising the profile of Ecuadoreans living overseas.

Image caption Which way is the US? A scene from Carlos West's Zuquillo Express

The National Secretariat for Migrants (Senami) was set up and started a campaign called We're all Migrants, which has financially contributed to a couple of films over the years, including Prometeo Deportado.

According to Lorena Escudero, head of Senami, cinema plays a crucial role in promoting dialogue when it comes to sensitive issues such as migration.

"The phenomenon of migration is so deeply human that in order to better the current situation, we can't just talk about it and approach it from a political perspective," says Ms Escudero.

"We need to approach the sensitivity of the people who are taking part in it. And cinema helps us do that, it helps us feel part of a process."

The three films, with their different approaches to migration, reflect a reality that for years was ignored.

Their success with the audiences suggests that Ecuador in general, not just the authorities, is slowly coming to terms with the issue of migration and its consequences.

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