How Wagua Brothers Hope to Inspire Panama’s Indigenous Filmmakers newsbhunt


While a number of films have been made about Panama’s Indigenous communities, few are by native filmmakers themselves. To date, perhaps only three Indigenous Panamanian filmmakers have ventured into filmmaking. Duiren Wagua, whose documentary feature debut “Bila Burba” plays at this year’s 12th Panama International Film Festival (IFF Panama), running April 4-7, is hoping to change the status quo.

Wagua and the company he co-founded with his brother Orgun, Wagua Films, have provided production and consulting services to companies seeking to film in Panama’s Indigenous territories. Orgun Wagua is also an editor and has worked on the projects of Ivan Jaripio, who hails from the Emberá community of Piriati. 

The Wagua brothers also provided production services to the second Indigenous-themed docu at the fest, “God Is a Woman” by Swiss-Panamanian Andres Peyrot, where they also feature among the talking heads. In it, Duiren notes that in the past, it was impossible for an Indigenous Panamanian to even consider making a film, which was “reserved for the elite classes.” “Now we can say that even with the few means we have, we can tell our stories,” Duiren says.

More doors are opening to Indigenous creative talent in the Americas, Europe and other parts of the world, he also pointed out. His brother adds: “When I give a film workshop, I always ask: ‘How do others see us; how do we see ourselves?’”

“God Is a Woman” makes a compelling argument for these questions. In 1975, Oscar-winning French director Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau made a documentary about the Kuna community. When his work was confiscated by the bank he owed, the project was abandoned and believed to be lost. Years later, with its director deceased, the Indigenous Panamanian community who were initially filmed now see themselves as rightful heirs to the footage shot some 50 years ago. Through empathetic and progressively poetic means, the long-lost footage is ultimately delivered and screened to them after it is found in Paris.

The Wagua brothers will be joining actress Iguandili López and writer-historian Dr. Cebaldo Inawinapi in one of the panels during the festival’s Industry Day to explore the trajectory of Indigenous pics from both historical and personal viewpoints.

Meanwhile, Duiren and Orgun Wagua are co-writing and plan to co-direct a second feature, “Dulemas,” which delves into the roots and historical significance of Gunadule cuisine, considered among the best in Panama. Wagua points out that in order to make “Bila Burba,” he still had to resort to Mexican funding for Central American films to supplement paltry Panamanian funds. His documentary follows the annual open-air reenactments of the Dule Revolution where the Gunadule nation rose up against oppressive Panamanian authorities in 1925.

Together, the Wagua brothers and their kin hope to assert their collective agency over their complex stories, one film at a time.


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