Argentine Voices

By Dylan Howitt


Activist film-makers Conscious Cinema report on the country’s remarkable protest movement

A blip and it’s gone: Argentina’s revolution no longer warrants precious airtime. Those who did catch the news in December 2001 however, witnessed a country ablaze in protest – with millions on the streets, burning banks, fleeing politicians and police repression. The fantasy bubble of first world status (sponsored by the international banks) had burst and the economy ground to a halt. But what happened after the international crews moved on? The most powerful popular rebellion seen in Latin America for many years.

We went to Argentina in April 2002, not to make a film but to present one, at Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival. But, despite a superb programme, we were immediately distracted by news from the streets. Another finance minister had resigned and people were gathering at Congress…

Armed with a domestic palm-corder and super-8 camera, we could hear the protest, with its banging of pots and pans (‘cacerolazos’), before seeing it. Effervescent was the best word to describe the atmosphere. One young student spoke of this as a defining time in Argentina’s history, beyond dictatorship and paternalism, with people reaching for real democracy. Then the crowd spontaneously set off to parade around town, with the chant ‘que se vayan todos’ (out with them all)! Over the next days we documented some of the myriad strategies of protest and survival. In the financial district all the banks were closed and protected by huge metal shutters. Teams of women went around graffiti-bombing ‘chorros’ (thieves), as fast as the banks could clean it off. Then there were the hundreds of asambleas, neighbourhood meetings that had sprung up on street corners and in parks to debate and organise around local issues. It was the most participatory democracy I’ve witnessed.

One day we were in a cab when the road was blocked by protesters. This is one of the biggest types of organised resistance in Argentina. The piqueteros or unemployed workers’ movement is drawn from union or workplace activists who block roads as a way of disrupting production/distribution and demanding basic rights. ‘We’re here to reclaim the state’, said one piquetero and indeed, an alternative currency now allows people to exchange the goods and services they do have.

Indigenous political filmmaking was showcased in the festival, including video activism from groups like Contraimagen, Argentina Arde and ADOC, who had filmed the December protests and, with very limited resources, were producing and distributing their films on VHS. It was mostly rough and ready reportage or polemic, but powerful and immediate. The makers generously gave us use of some of their archive for our own work.

Back in the UK, our material and experience seemed to suggest a particular approach: we constructed the film first in sound, working with sound designer Al McGregor to weave together different conversations with music and poetry, as well as the powerful sounds of chants and cacerolazos, before finally cutting in the images. The intended result is a kind of lyrical reportage, both a travelogue and hopefully a piece that touches on the courage and resourcefulness of people fighting back against all the odds.

Dylan Howitt and Zoe Young work together as Conscious Cinema.

For more information, copies of Voces Argentinas or to arrange screenings, please contact