Mapuche Fourth Cinema: A Process of Becoming

From a vantage point on the border that separates the inside from the outside, I have observed for a few years now Mapuche (Mapudungun: mapu/land and che/people) independent cinema and video art in the process of becoming. I have tried to enter into an observational process free of expectation; however, within this process of observing, I’ve realized it is not possible for me to remove my very Anglo-Canadian way of seeing – in spite of also being Chilean and knowing that I am a part-descendant of Mapuche peoples as well. As a result, I see just as strongly the absences within emerging Mapuche cinema as I do what exists currently and what is imminently in evolution.

This webpage is a document of my ongoing process of observing and researching artist-driven Mapuche cinema. As a document of an ongoing process of research, I welcome feedback that might improve the robustness of my curatorial research and to serve as a reference for others.


Who are the Mapuche

The Mapuche are the largest Indigenous nation in Chile, comprising an estimated one million self-identified individuals within a country that has a population of 15 million. To contextualize the size of this population, it would be like every Indigenous person in Canada belonging to one Indigenous Nation.

While the Mapuche are not the only First Nation in Chile, they are an immense Nation whose history over the past 500 years intertwines with Chile’s own history as a country with the shared objective of independence from Spain.

The Mapuche have been highly regarded through Chilean colonial historical interpretation as skilled and strategic contributors to independence. For example, Chile considers Mapuche Toki Lauftraro (Mapudungun: Toki/Leader of a large alliance) to be a hero of Chilean independence, skilled for his exceptional horsemanship and strategic capacity. At the same time, however, Chileans also actively treat the Mapuche as intrinsically inferior or – paradoxically – “foreign” peoples and as distinctly separate from the identity of what it means to be Chilean. The dichotomy of these two realities is not possible to reconcile when observed from the outside – this is, instead, the beginning of many paradoxes on the border that separates the Mapuche from the Chilean.

Latin America’s population, in comparison to Anglo/Franco America’s, is significantly Indigenous and mixed Indigenous by descent. In this context, what separates the Mapuche from the mainstream Chilean is not as much a clear genetic/racial divide as the legacy of the known mechanisms of colonialism played out over centuries; and has as its impact the forced or conscious erasure of Indigenous self-identity through displacement from territory, the imposition of a foreign language, the changing of names, and the enforcement of colonialism by state and corporate institutions.

Who self-identifies as Mapuche in this context is complex. While often times it is the result of a direct familial cultural connection, at other times it is not as clear as this. At times, self-identification is connected to a last name that remains within a family. This context also results in scenarios where only some children from the same parents self-identify as Indigenous, while their siblings reject this identification. In a country where Indigenous self-identification often relegates a person to a defacto lower class status, there is no overall systemic benefit to this self-identification in spite of some temporary benefits that might be available in the short term.

Layered on top of Indigenous identity in Latin America, is the complicated divide between the Left and the Right over the past century. In Chile, in particular, there is the continued manifestation of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) still embedded in not only the country’s laws, but also in the country’s overall political worldview that exists even to today. The culture of “individualism” that permeates modern Chile’s overall political worldview is at odds with the community-based nature of the Mapuche culture, where it is the community that permits, authorizes and designates.

Finally, it is important to note that while Chile is a country that is centuries old, its extension into the geographic heart of the Mapuche Nation only occurred at the end of the 19th century. Spain, itself, eventually recognized the Mapuche Nation as an independent, autonomous entity through the “Parlamento de Negrete” treaties of the early 19th century. Chile began taking control of the Mapuche territory on the west side of the Andes in the mid 19th century through questionable processes and the unilateral imposition of new laws that did not conceptually respect the community-based nature of their culture. A similar process was undertaken by Argentina to take control of the Mapuche territory on the east side of the Andes.

Indígena vs Campesino vs Wariache

The term Indigenous, in South America, is synonymous with connection to land (Spanish: territorio) as an integral component of individual and cultural identity and strength. The physical taking away of the relationship of Indigenous peoples with their ancestral land is key tool of colonialism. Assimilated or colonized Indigenous peoples have historically been referred to not as Indigenous, but Campesinos (English: peasants). Campesinos use land for its production value and do not have an explicit cultural relationship with land, even though they may be engaged only in subsistence farming. The boundary between Indigenous and Campesino, however, is not always a clear one, as the process of colonization has at times absorbed and not eliminated Indigenous traditions. One example of this is the distinct “Catholic” celebrations of the peoples of the Andean altiplano.

The Wariache (Mapudungun: waria/city and che/people) are self-identified Mapuche people who have moved to the city to access its resources, generally over the past 50 years as urbanization has developed. This emerging notion of Wariache is distinct from Campesino, even though they are also people removed from the direct presence of their ancestral land. Land for the Wariache still remains a central conceptual notion to indigeneity, although in a more broad and abstract sense. The Wariache retain their sense of indigeneity while expressing it in new ways – including, increasingly, through contemporary art practices. They are actively using modern tools to reinterpret Mapuche identity, and it is specifically the Wariache who have entered into Fourth Cinema. 

The Fourth Cinema of the Mapuche

In 2007, New Zealand documentary filmmaker and political activist Kim Mazur wrote about Jeannette Paillan’s seminal documentary “Wallmapu” (2001).[i] Mazur writes, “‘Wallmapu’ is not only the first film made by Indigenous Mapuche, about Mapuche, it is also the first historic look at Chile from a Mapuche perspective [in cinema].”

Mazur positioned Paillan’s work in the context of Fourth Cinema, a term coined by Barry Barclay in the context of Māori cinema, as the cinema practices of Indigenous peoples in non Indigenous nation states. The notion of Fourth Cinema is about who holds the authorship lens. While many films about the Mapuche have been directed by people of other cultures often in the context of Third Cinema, or cinema of resistance – the self-authored cinema of the Mapuche is a relatively emerging practice.

Connecting the trajectories of Jeannette Paillan’s documentary “Wallmapu” (2001) through to the break-out feature film “Mala Junta” (2016), by director Claudia Huaiquimilla, one immediately notices the prominent role of women in Mapuche cinema. This role mirrors the role of women in general in Mapuche society, as distinct from the strong patriarchal leanings of Chilean society. Paillan, who views her work in film as one not as a director, but rather a comunicador/a – a person who uses the tools of communication for activist ends, a function that considers the role of narratives within the building of societal structures – has since become the Director of the FICWALLMAPU International Indigenous Film Festival of Wallmapu (Mapudungun: wall/surrounding and mapu/land). Wallmapu is the Mapuche Nation.

My current curatorial research work investigating and documenting Mapuche cinema is specifically in the context of Fourth Cinema – filmmakers and video artists who self-identify as Mapuche, and my research work is supported by FICWALLMAPU.

[i] Kim Mazur, “Jeannette Paillan, Wallmapu,” Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue (1 December 2007).



  • Punalka, el alto del Bio Bio – dir. Jeannette Paillan, documentary, 1995, SD, 26 mins – Mapudungun
  • Wallmapu – dir. Jeannette Paillian, documentary, 2001, SD, 63 mins – Mapudungun and Spanish
  • Series: Ensayos de contra-observación urbana – dir. Colectivo Catrileo-Carrión, video art, 2015, HD (Desde las ventanas: 1:16 mins, 2:50 mins, 5:50 mins) – no dialogue
  • Üñüm – dir. Patricia Pichun, video art, 2018, HD, 2:23 – no dialogue 

This curatorial research has been generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and FICWALLMAPU: International Indigenous Film Festival of the Mapuche Nation.

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