Sog.: dalla pièce La voz de la quena di Antonio Diaz Villamil; Scen.: José Maria Velasco Maidana, Antonio Diaz Villamil; F.: Mario Camacho; Jose Jimenez, José Maria Velasco Maidana; Scgf.: Arturo Borda; Co.: Martha de Velasco, Alicia Diaz Villamil; Int.: Juanita Taillansier, Martha de Velasco, Arturo Borda, Emmo Reyes, Jose Velasco, Guillermo Viscarra, Damaso Delgado, Raul Montalvo, Juan Capriles, Humberto Viscarra; Prod.: Urania Film; Pri. pro.: 9 gennaio 1930. 35mm L.or. : 2100 m. L.: 1890 m. D.: 69’ a 24 f/s. Bn.
“It was in a semi-feudal Bolivia that the cinematographer arrived, prodigal son of the industrial society rejected by the local dominant class, rocked and put to sleep by the lullaby of the international divisions of labour. These socio-economic characteristics were to determine the fate of Bolivian cinema, relegated from this time to the present to be the work of perpetual pioneers sustained by their own force in the face of the stubborn indifference of the state”. (Pedro Susz)
As Pedro Susz, founder of the Cinemateca Boliviana, justly maintains, to make cinema in Bolivia is a matter for pioneers. Thus also José Maria Velasco Maidana, a musician by profession and a multi-faceted artist, was a cinema pioneer of the 1920s, a time considered the golden age of Bolivian silent cinema. Far from becoming an established industry, Bolivian cinema was (and still is) left to the care and initiative of willing visionaries like Pedro Sambarino, Arturo Posnanky and José Maria Velasco Maidana, who created in La Paz cinema laboratories that functioned in an artisanal manner. In 1925 Velasco Maidana completed his first feature film, The Prophecy of the Lake, which was immediately censored and destroyed by municipal order, since it told the story of the love of an aristocratic lady for her indigenous servant. Between 1928 and 1929 he directed Wara Wara, the impossible love story of an Inca princess for a noble Spanish conquistador. The film was a true and proper period super-production, set during the conquest of the Inca empire by the army of Pizarro. With his last film on the Chaco war in 1933, Maidana ended his foray into filmmaking and returned to what was closest to his heart, music. In December 1938, in fact, he was invited to Berlin to present his ballet for symphony orchestra, Amerindia. Some years later in La Paz he founded the National Symphony Orchestra, but his artistic restlessness, and perhaps the bitterness at being better known and recognised abroad than in Bolivia, led him to leave his country and family and emigrate first to Mexico and then to the United States, where he met the painter Dorothy Hood with whom he ended his days in Texas. In 1989, the year of his death, a trunk containing numerous pieces of nitrate film was found in his family house in La Paz. There was no trace of positive prints, the major part of the material consisted of original camera negatives, but a first examination showed that the most consistent part of the collection was from Wara Wara. Thanks to the Goethe Institute in La Paz a selection of this material was sent to a German laboratory which undertook to make a photochemical copy on safety stock but sent back to Bolivia a shorter length of film than had been sent. Until 2001, in fact, the “restored version” of Wara Wara was still missing this vanished material, but the subsequent decade of research and investigation shed important light on the silent era of Bolivian cinema. Only in 2009, with the decision to restore the film from the original negative, was it possible to recover the 150 missing metres, corresponding to the final part of the film. The complex operation of narrative reconstruction was based on primary sources – the negative itself, which was assembled not in narrative order but in blocks according to the different period colourisations – and on secondary sources such as the tragedy by Diaz Villamil, newspaper clippings of the period, family documents, interviews with the film’s actors and collaborators. We also know that it was Cesar Carces who “synchronised” the projections of the film with the live performance of ethnic music. It has taken twenty years to bring this legend of Bolivian cinema back to life, while research on the reconstruction of the colour and of the original accompanying score continues. And this activity also could be work for pioneers.
Stefano Lo Russo
Restoration carried out in 2010 at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory from the original camera negatives preserved at Fondacion Cinemateca Boliviana. The negatives have been digitally restored in 2K; a positiva print with combined sound has been struck. Soundtrack by Cergio Prudenzio and editing by Fernando Vargas
have been recreated according to studies on primary and secondary sources.