Ariella Orbach

Ariella Orbach

IDRC Research Award, Chile

"International development research isn't just a field for academics who have had the chance to go to university. Even without formal or Western education, people do research every day, when trying to understand their culture, their history, and how they can improve the world around them."

— Ariella Orbach



Watch the audio slideshow on Orbach's research experience
 

Watch the ten-minute video sharing Orbach's research results (in Spanish with English subtitles)
 


"First, there's the pace. It's slower. There are a lot of silences and nature sounds. There's plenty of room to breathe. It's really beautiful." According to Ariella Orbach, recipient of an IDRC Research Award, that is the essence of Mapuche filmmaking. After spending three months in two Chilean indigenous communities, she stresses the power of video for disseminating local and ancestral knowledge.

Orbach returned from Chile with a taste for mate, a traditional infusion, but above all she came back with the many things she learned about research from the Mapuche, literally "People of the earth" in Mapudungun.

Choosing community video

In 2008, having completed her Master's degree in Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph, Orbach chose the camera as her primary tool.

"I was looking for something concrete that would help improve the situation of marginalized communities," she explains. She settled on audiovisual media given the emergence of information and communication technologies and the accessibility of video.

A meeting with the Director of a Chilean non-governmental organization (NGO) was also a decisive factor. The Director of the Observatorio Ciudadano held a conference on the rights of indigenous populations in Chile, which stirred her interest in the Mapuche people, a group often discriminated against and marginalized within Chilean society. 

Orbach decided to co-found the Strategic Video Initiative project. From then on, she devoted herself to planning and coordinating projects to support the rights of indigenous people by means of audiovisual training.

A filmmaking school

In 2011, the Quebecois NGO Wapikoni Mobile joined the Strategic Video Initiative and its Mapuche partners to create the Mapuche Filmmaking School, geared toward youth from ages 9 to 27. 

Although the instructors allowed these young people to explore the genre of their choice, from music videos to fiction, Orbach observed something that would be crucial to her future research: "The Mapuche always gravitated toward the documentary style and were always looking to analyze the problems of their people."

Seeing through a different lens

After she spent four years developing this independent initiative, an IDRC research award allowed Orbach to return to the role of researcher. Her field experience had convinced her that marginalized populations had something to contribute to international development research, but that they had not yet found the right language to share their thoughts.  

She thought video could very well be that language. She therefore made a proposal to two rural Mapuche communities, suggesting that together with her, they think about the possibilities of video as a means of communicating international development research. She has compiled the results of her research into a ten-minute video consisting of excerpts from interviews with individuals from the southern Chilean communities of Jagepvjv and Malalhue Chanko.

"This is the first time that I've worked with them as a researcher, and I saw how the word research can be negatively perceived. From colonization to the present day, people have had bad experiences. Many researchers went into indigenous communities to convince them to participate in projects that did not meet their local needs."

This local reluctance led her to make an important observation in her research: the importance of the relationship between the researcher and the community. Genuinely cooperative learning, in her mind, means having people analyze, debate, and change one's research proposal during community assemblies. Her interviews also confirmed one of her hypotheses, namely the importance of the audiovisual medium for traditional indigenous societies.

"These societies are based on oral tradition. Video gives them the chance to talk about development and communicate their knowledge from one generation to another in a way that is appropriate for them."

New plans in sight

The young researcher is already planning to return to Chile in early 2013, with a new IDRC-supported project in the works. Her independent initiative, Mapuche researchers, the Université de Montréal, and Wapikoni Mobile will join forces to develop an audiovisual platform on the theme of biocultural diversity. This virtual platform will allow Mapuche youth to exchange videos with indigenous youth in Bolivia and Quebec.

"The Mapuche want to build bridges between their community and the Chilean people, as well as other indigenous communities," says Ariella Orbach. "They want to speak to them directly, without an interpreter." The camera allows them to express their identity, which comes across in the very subtleties they use to capture their reality on film.

Marie-Claude Rouillard, the author of this profile, is a writer in Ottawa.


Watch a short film directed, shot, and edited by Mapuche youth during the Mapuche Filmmaking School: 
 
http://wapikoni.tv/medias/fiche/movie/623/en (in Mapudungun with English subtitles)
 

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IDRC funds researchers in the developing world so they can build healthier, more prosperous societies
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