Film Reviews: Documentaries on extraction and colonialism
By Guest Writer: Ysabel
Secos Documentary Review
With an engaging soundtrack and stark imagery, Secos is an important film that sheds light on a hidden issue: resource extraction. Resource extraction is any activity that removes materials from the natural environment for manufacturing and man-made processes, often in unsustainable ways that cause disastrous impacts for people and the planet. Resource extraction includes logging, large-scale mining and oil extraction, regularly transforming natural resources around the world from common goods into privately owned assets.
Secos is available to watch for free here.
Secos was created by MODATIMA, the Movement for the Defense of Water Access, Land and Environmental Protection. The Chilean organisation, created in the Valparaiso region, aims to defend the rights of campesinos, workers and inhabitants of the area who have been affected by resource extraction, namely water privatisation. The film begins in a theatre, where a variety of notable Chilean actors and actresses discuss the word ‘secos’. Translated from Spanish, seco means dry (the ‘s’ in ‘secos’ makes it agree with a plural noun, as in ‘the dry ones’). However, in Chile ‘secos’ has other colloquial meanings such as ‘to be the best’ or ‘the unique ones’. This opening discussion of language allows the viewer to connect with the local cultural context of the film. Chile is located on the west coast of South America, and is often praised as being ‘the best of South America’ due to the country’s social and political stability as well as a growing GDP. Yet under the surface, Chile is seco in the original sense.
Under successive neoliberal governments, Chile’s water resources and their management have been privatised, enabling the work of big business and industries from hydroelectric plants to large-scale mining and agro-exporters. Large amounts of water are redirected for private interests, ultimately leaving landscapes and people dry. People who have lived and worked in these territories for generations have seen the change in landscape and water usage. Those who once bathed and fished in rivers, who could drink from fresh, natural water supplies, are now allotted minimal water rations, jeopardising livelihoods.
Water in Chile was once a common good – something that is shared, or benefits most people in society. Natural resources are often common goods, supporting life and livelihoods. Water privatisation removes this common good in two ways; not only does privatisation reduce water’s ability to support life and livelihood, but the economic benefits reaped are not shared amongst society, instead benefitting the few. When a common good is exploited and destroyed it tears the social fabric of society, trust in government decreases, and people face economic and social scarcity, often uprooting their lives in search of work and stability. Those already at the margins of society frequently experience this burden the most.
According to the film, water privatisation has been enabled in Chile because of the Constitution. Written during a dictatorship renowned for introducing the neoliberal model to South America, Article 19 Number 24 of the Constitution states, ‘The rights of private entities over water acknowledged or constituted in conformity to the Law will grant their holders the ownership of them’. Water thus becomes a commercial product to be exploited and not a common good. Successive democratic governments have not repealed or amended this clause and continue to allow water privatisation and resource extraction.
The dichotomy between the plentiful and the barren is shown in Secos through landscapes with backdrops of dryness and drought, foregrounded with large blue reservoirs of untouchable water. In the film, we hear testimony from inhabitants about what the privatisation of water means at a local, everyday level, things like being allotted only 10 litres of water a week. Again, those already marginalised in society, such as Indigenous groups and campesinos, are more likely to experience the worst impacts of water privatisation in particular and resource extraction more broadly.
Secos manages to show the devastating impact of stolen water through the use of imagery of dry landscapes and testimonies, without falling into a trauma-porn trope. While Secos does mention that people and communities are fighting against water privatisation and the removal of the Water Code, its main aim seems to be education. Despite resource extraction being an issue in many parts of the world for a long time, it is only recently receiving the attention and critique in the mainstream it deserves. Secos is part of the MODATIMA movement, whose main aim is to educate and make visible the conflict surrounding water privatisation and theft, and it is successful in this goal. The film provides a powerful visual reference that educates the audience on water privatisation in Chile, showcasing how water privatisation and resource extraction has come about and is harmful, especially to the most vulnerable people in communities.