Film explores intersection of commerce and ecology

Christiana Ochoa, associate dean for reseach and faculty affairs, professor of law, and Charles L. Whistler Faculty Fellow, has recently completed a documentary about the impact of gold mining on a pristine moorlands area in the highlands of Colombia. The film, Otra cosa no hay (There Is Nothing Else), was selected for screening in October 2014 at the Bogotá International Film Festival, the leading venue for independent film in Colombia.

The film depicts the conflict between residents of the páramo of Santurbán, for whom gold mining had been their only form of sustenance for more than 400 years, and environmental activists, who feared that proposed large-scale, multinational mining would affect the country’s drinking water supply.

Largely hidden behind the battle over the environment were longtime residents of the area, whose lives and livelihood lay in the balance regardless of which side prevailed. “It’s a complex story,” Ochoa said. “My hope is that people leave the movie with more questions than answers, and with a deep sense of the anxiety and uncertainty that has permeated the region since foreign mining interests arrived.”

Working with a crew from the Colombian film company Enlalucha Films, Ochoa made multiple trips to the Colombian highlands over four years to produce the film. “The people in those towns, what they saw coming at them were really difficult choices,” Ochoa said. “Watching how the communities related to those devastating prospects and the lack of traction they had in the political and legal system ended up being what the film is about.”

For better or for worse, a regional park has been created in the area, and large numbers of formerly employed miners have had to turn to illegal gold mining in order to get by. This has put them at odds with the government, and returned a stabilized region in Colombia to a period of insecurity and uncertainty.

Ochoa, the film’s director and executive producer, received travel support from the law school and the Center for the Study of Global Change. She self-funded the production of the film and decided early in the process it would be a non-commercial endeavor. In a media experiment, she created a website for the film -- www.nothingelsefilm.com -- but has chosen not to promote it yet, in order to observe how the webpage moves through the globe on its own, before setting out to promote it actively. As of early October, it had garnered about 4,000 page views.

She hopes the film will reach a receptive audience and shine light on the issue of conflict between economic growth and human well-being. And she hopes it achieves enough success to open doors for her next planned film project – an examination of the impact deep-sea mining could have on places like Vanuatu, the South Pacific island nation dubbed “the happiest place on earth.”

Watch the trailer for Otra cosa no hay.