Destapando Agua - "Uncovering Water", a film on water scarcity in a Mapuche village

Note: This film is in Spanish. 
(Watch in HD)


In the spring of 2015, I spent 5 months conducting ethnographic research in Chile, as part of a study abroad program. I was interested in understanding the formations of cultural identity, networks of social justice, and notions of community development in a country still raw from Pinochet's military dictatorship.

Specifically, I was interested in studying the everyday lived experiences of the impacts of Pinochet's reign. During his dictatorship, Pinochet implemented a series of free market reforms and privatized large segments of the country's natural resources. In this film, I examine the impacts of the Regime's 1981 water privatization policy on a Mapuche community, Chile's largest indigenous group, in the south of the country.

Destapando Agua ("Uncovering Water") seeks to unveil the visceral impacts of water scarcity in a small farming village. It questions the role of the state in the providence of water and sheds light on the larger political conversation on water as public vs. private good.

This film acts as a voice of resistance, speaking back to power.

I lived and interviewed with 4 Mapuche families who intimately shared their frustrations and fears with regards to neoliberalization of their natural resources. I also interviewed with the Director General of the government body in-charge of water management for the Araucanía region where the Mapuche village is situated. 

Key insights from my fieldwork:

  • The neo-liberalization of water and its tensions: While the Chilean government views the country's natural resources as products to be capitalized upon, the Mapuche believe that the Earth's natural resources are part of their spirituality and existence. As such, the larger policy changes were in direct opposition with the Mapuches' philosophies of life. They struggled and still struggle with the lack of ownership over their region's natural resources.
  • The limitations on construction of wells: The Chilean government places restrictions on the depth of wells constructed. This limits the Mapuche's ability to tap into groundwater. Further, the government requires all wells to be registered however, the Mapuches face difficulties in navigating the long bureaucratic paperwork process.
  • Mapuche as non-citizens: The Mapuches' citizenship status remains a contentious topic in Chile. Being indigenous, they are seen as non-Chileans and non-citizens, causing them to fall outside of the government's jurisdiction to care for and protect its citizens. This question of citizenship adds another layer of complexity to their water rights.
  • Eucalyptus and pine tree farms as a means of survival: Despite the country's repetitive drought cycles and decreasing groundwater reserves, farms of eucalyptus and pine trees can be seen across the countryside. These trees are a source of income for the Mapuche. However, they are infamous for their high demand of water for growth. While the Mapuche are reliant on the tree farms for economic livelihood, they present a serious threat to further depletion of the groundwater reserves.  

To paraphrase one of my interviewees: "We're not angry, we're worried. We don't know what else to do. How will we survive without water? The government needs to do more - what we've seen are only patches; paracetamol, you know? We need real solutions."

Disclaimer: As I did not have access to a professional camera during my time in Chile, I relied on the iPhone 4 I was using at that time. As such, the quality of the film had to be compromised. I wrote, narrated, filmed, and edited the entirety of the film.