Walter Saxer

Scen.: Walter Saxer, Mario Vargas Llosa. F.: Rainer Klausmann. M.: Micki Joanni. Int.: Mario Vargas Llosa, Burkhard Driest (voci narranti). Prod.: Alive Film & Video Productions, Balance Film GmbH, Wildlife Films. DCP.
T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Sepa: Nuestro Senor de los milagros is the name of an open-air penal colony created in 1951 by the Peruvian Government as part of the national effort to colonise the Amazon territories by promoting agricultural practices among inmates in a 37,000-hectare tract of land in the jungles of Central Peru. The 1987 documentary directed by Walter Saxer is the only window into this experimental penal colony in Peru, which no camera has ever entered and has been rarely written about. The film begins with the live broadcast of a violent mutiny in a prison in Lima, El Sexto, where the protesting inmates take and kill hostages, calling out their demands to be recognised as humans in the terrifying conditions of state prisons. We swiftly leave the dry lands surrounding Lima to enter the lush landscapes of rivers and forests that lead to El Sepa. Here inmates are free to walk, free to bring their families, free to dance and cook together. An American inmate claims Sepa is an example for the entire world on how prisons should be organized. But Sepa and the people who live in it are forgotten by the rest of the country and institutional corruption creates a quiet sense of despair, heightened by the difficulty of the jungle terrain. The filmmaker (and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo producer) Walter Saxer, and the author of the narration, Peruvian nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, reflect on the condition of the inmates, the institution of prisons within society and the discrepancy between the philosophy behind this open-air penal colony and its reality. But the film doesn’t provide solutions; if anything the film poses questions and lets the life in this strange place, forgotten by the world, speak for itself. It is for the audience to look for answers, because the power of film is to ignite ideas and emotions – then it is for people to act on them. This documentary was shot in 1987 and then forgotten for more than 30 years in a closet, only to surface in the second decade of a new millennium. […] Today we ask ourselves “What is justice? What does it look like? What is a crime? How do we deal with it?” and we try to rectify what we have inherited from the past. Sepa: Nuestro Senor de los milagros reminds us that these questions have always been there and that the issues we have today are common around the world.   

Courtesy of Walter Saxer Restored in 4K by Cinematheque suisse and Cineteca di Bologna in collaboration with Ministerio de Cultura del Peru at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, from the 16mm original negative camera and sound held at Yacumama Films