Friday, 17 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015: ARAYA - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****

Araya (1959)
Dir. Margot Benacerraf

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If the idea of watching sheer pain and utter drudgery in one of the most desolate corners of the earth sounds like your idea of a must-skip, think again. Araya is one of the most moving, powerful and poetic documentaries ever made.

In the late 50s, filmmaker Margot Benacerraf took her cameras to the furthest reaches of a forlorn peninsula in Venezuela to capture a day in the lives of several families who make their living as workers in a natural salt "farm". From early morning, through a blistering day and even deep into the night, we get a profoundly uplifting look at pure survival. These are people who live to work and they work harder than most of us couldn't even imagine.

Every element of their existence is work - hard, brutal, physical labour under the unrelenting rays of a sun that never ceases to beat down upon them. We experience the backbreaking toil of culling the salt, breaking it down, forming it into pyramidical shaped bricks, hauling it to get ready for shipping and then, doing it all over again. The only respite for some includes re-stitching fishing nets, casting them into the ocean and harvesting the food they need for sustenance.

We also get detailed insight into the domestic chores on the home front. This is all accompanied by haunting, astonishing black and white cinematography, moving poetic narration (as information packed as it is sweetly lilting) and heart rending music (plus meticulously captured natural sounds).

These are men, women and children. Nobody here is exempt from a life of hardship - a life born out of slavery and colonialism and continuing to this day under corporate slavery.

This is potent stuff. It might be even more valuable to us now than when the film was first released.

Acclaimed by some of the world's greatest directors (everyone from Jean Renoir to Steven Soderbergh), Araya disappeared off the radar for over half a century until it's revival and restoration. Now, it can be see in all its glory on both the big screen and at home.

Araya has been made available through the restoration efforts of the legendary Dennis Doros and Amy Heller at Milestone Films. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs 2015 website HERE. The film is also available on gorgeous home video transfers vie Milestone.