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The indigenous Rama people of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast speak out against a canal that threatens their ancestral land and way of life.
The indigenous Rama people of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast speak out against a canal that threatens their ancestral land and way of life.
183 backers pledged $12,605 to help bring this project to life.
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View of the Caribbean Sea from the village of Bangkukuk
View of the Caribbean Sea from the village of Bangkukuk

Bangkukuk - Documentary Film

The Rama people have lived on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua for thousands of years, long before the existence of the nation. In 2013 the Nicaraguan government passed Law 840 allowing a Chinese company to construct an interoceanic canal which would cut through the Rama village of Bangkukuk, forcing them from their ancestral land. Our documentary follows three families in the village as they struggle to defend and preserve their land and way of life in the face of this mega-project.

"In the water we have our money. We have lobster, fish, shrimp. When the Chinese come... those things will be [gone]. I feel it." - Jimmy McCrae

Bangkukuk Community Leaders: Jimmy McCrae, Carlos Bilis, Angela Castíllo, Edwin McCrae
Bangkukuk Community Leaders: Jimmy McCrae, Carlos Bilis, Angela Castíllo, Edwin McCrae

Background

The Nicaraguan Canal would be the largest earth-moving project in human history and was approved without public consultation or debate. Though the government hails the project as the means to lift the nation out of poverty, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans would be forced from their land and the environmental impact could devastate the country’s rich ecosystem of lakes, rivers, and forests. Almost half of the 170 mile canal would cut through indigenous land which is protected by Law 445. In direct violation of this law the government is pressuring community members to sign concessions to their land without legal representation. In response, community leaders have partnered with human rights organizations to bring their case to the Inter-American court. In the past year, anti-canal sentiment has grown into a nationwide movement of community groups, civil rights organizations, and environmental activists. Read more here.

The proposed interoceanic canal route. (Map by Mark Garrison)
The proposed interoceanic canal route. (Map by Mark Garrison)

Project Goals

The film, Bangkukuk, is a collaboration between Art of Solidarity and village leaders aimed at sharing their story with the international community. Our goal is a feature-length documentary film that will give voice to the many communities, organizations, and activists at the front lines of the indigenous rights and anti-canal movements in Nicaragua.

The story of the Nicaraguan Canal has gone relatively untold in the international media and is often discussed only in economic terms. By bringing this story to an international audience we hope to build awareness and support for the plight of Nicaragua's indigenous communities and their legal fight to defend their land and way of life. 

Our goal of $12,000 will fund a second round of production in Bangkukuk and along the proposed canal route for four weeks in the summer of 2016. Your donations go directly towards production costs and our community partners in Nicaragua: 25% community partners, 25% travel/lodging, 25% artist stipends, 15% food, 10% equipment/insurance. 

Alisia Bilis lived through war and natural disasters in Bangkukuk. She is one of the few remaining speakers of the Rama language.
Alisia Bilis lived through war and natural disasters in Bangkukuk. She is one of the few remaining speakers of the Rama language.

Art of Solidarity

Art of Solidarity was created by Nicaraguan-born artist/educator Maria Gabriela Aldana and filmmaker Aleks Martray in 2007 as a community-based media collaborative. Since then it has produced over a dozen films which have screened at international film festivals and on television. In 2014, AoS partnered with Nicaraguan author/producer Alvaro Vergara to pursue a project that would give voice to the communities most impacted by the canal. In August 2015, our Art of Solidarity film crew traveled the proposed canal route from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Traveling by truck, bus, boat, and foot, we began documenting the stories of the impacted communities and built friendships along the way. Shooting in the mud, rain, and on the choppy waves of the Caribbean Sea, we gained the logistical know-how needed to finish a second round of production in 2016.

AoS crew, Aleks Martray and Poll Bravo, on the Caribbean Sea near Bangkukuk (left). Community leader Carlos Bilis with AoS Crew, Alvaro Vergara and Maria Aldana (right).
AoS crew, Aleks Martray and Poll Bravo, on the Caribbean Sea near Bangkukuk (left). Community leader Carlos Bilis with AoS Crew, Alvaro Vergara and Maria Aldana (right).

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Art of Solidarity - Crew Bios

Aleks Martray - Director/editor (Heidelberg, Germany 1982) has been a filmmaker and community-based media producer for 10 years. He is co-founder of Art of Solidarity, a program that has produced over a dozen media-arts collaborations since 2007. He works with Scribe Video Center and Big Picture Alliance in Philadelphia, PA producing community-based documentaries and teaching media workshops. His work as producer/director has been screened at film festivals and on television. Martray holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Arts in Community Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

Maria Gabriela Aldana - Producer (Managua, Nicaragua 1980) is a visual artist that has worked with marginalized communities in Nicaragua and Baltimore, MD for over 10 years. She is the co-founder and director of Art of Solidarity, a cultural-exchange program through the Maryland Institute College of Art. As the Community Arts Manager at Creative Alliance in Baltimore, MD she leads citywide family festivals, anti-racism storytelling workshops and programs that demonstrate the artistic expressions of immigrant and refugee communities. Aldana holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Arts in Community Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

Álvaro Vergara - Producer/Consultant (Bogotá, Columbia 1982) is a poet, critic, narrator and multidisciplinary digital artist who grew up on Nicaragua´s Caribbean Coast. In 2007, he published Conflagración Caribe (Managua, INC-enitel) the first published collection of Spanish and Kriol-language poetry. Vergara's work was also included in 4M3R1C4 Novísima Poesía Latinoamericana (Santiago de Chile, Ed. Ventana Abierta) a compilation of young avant-garde poets from across Latin America. He currently works as a media specialist with White Shark Media.

Poll Bravo - Cinematographer (Lima, Peru 1989) is a Baltimore-based independent filmmaker. He graduated from Towson University with a major in Digital Video and Film. Bravo produces powerful documentaries on issues that affect our society and serve as a medium for local artists who want their voices to be heard. He has collaborated with non-profit organizations in Baltimore and schools in DC, such as American University and George Washington.

Risks and challenges

Covering the canal is politically controversial and the government continues to suppress local and international media coverage. Some foreign journalists and activists have been detained and even deported for covering anti-canal protests. We have formed crucial partnerships with the Rama-Kriol government, the Bangkukuk community council, and human rights groups that have made this project possible. Art of Solidarity has spent over 10 years developing relationships with Nicaraguan communities and has established itself as a respected source of community-based media.

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Funding period

- (40 days)