Documentary Takes Racy Look at Nicaragua’s Land Boom
A new documentary chronicling the volatile and frenzied land boom that swept up Nicaragua’s southern Pacific coast several years ago is already causing a stir after the recent release of the film’ edgy trailer, along with a sensationalist poster warning investors to “bring your gun.”
“LAND” is a 90-minute, Canadian produced documentary that follows Nicaragua’s roller-coaster land rush from 2005 to 2008.
The nine-minute trailer shows older footage of a greener and less-crowded looking San Juan del Sur five years ago, and features the equally raw opinions of foreign investors and local residents – not all of whom are thrilled about their new neighbors. Peppering the simmering real estate tensions are a dash of revolutionary politics, a twist of Nicaraguan lawlessness and a pinch of foreboding as Daniel Ortega returns to power.
LAND is scheduled for its theatre release in Canada next month, and is negotiating a U.S. theater release later this summer. The film has also been selected for screening at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto later this month, and is short-listed for the Cannes Film Festival in France in May.
“This is a modern wild-west story; a convolution of morals in frontier country,” Canadian director and producer Julian Pinder told The Nica Times this week in a phone interview from Toronto.
Pinder, 28, said unlike other documentaries that have a clear political agenda or club viewers over their heads with a message, LAND is more about exposing subtleties and gray areas.
“So many social-issue films try to expose bad guys or extol the past, but I really wanted to tell a story and let people figure it out for themselves and make their own judgments,” Pinder said.
To make the story compelling, Pinder turned to the actors on the ground. He said he tried to show the wide range of opinions and voices from “both worlds” – everyone from “the developers – some less likable than others – to the local kids who are getting f**ked over.”
In the trailer, Pinder also interviews several fringe characters with extreme views.
For Pinder, who has done previous documentary work in Kosovo and Bosnia, the Nicaraguan project became a personal story of sorts.
Pinder first came in Nicaragua in 2004 not as a filmmaker but as a surfer. He said he fell in love with the country, attracted to its revolutionary history, the “chaotic” sharp edges, and the affordable real estate. He quickly bought a small plot of land near the beach in Gigante, north of San Juan del Sur.
“I bought before the big rush. It was quite primitive then, different from what it became,” Pinder said.
As he witnessed more developers and investors arrive, Pinder became uncomfortable.
“It was difficult to deal with as someone who loved country previous to its development,” the filmmaker said. “I didn’t like what I had seen in other parts of the world and didn’t like what I was seeing in Nicaragua. It was not responsible; it was a sh*t show.
Seeing 16 year-old (Nicaraguan) girls with 60-year-old (foreign) men was off-putting.”
So when Pinder decided to start filming in 2005, he did so through a tinted lens. He said he was strongly “anti-development” and was hoping Ortega would win the 2006 presidential elections and “kick out all the bullsh*t and make things right.”
Four years later, Pinder’s perspective on the situation has changed. He says his previous views “were wrong in hindsight,” especially that of Ortega, whom he now calls “sullied” and “disappointing.”
In the course of making the film, Pinder said his other preconceptions of “good guys and bad guys” also changed. He says he now realizes that developers, whom he previously lumped together under the label “bad guys,”come in all flavors. The same is true, he said, for the locals – even those who claim they’ve been wronged by foreign developers.
That point really hit home when Pinder found himself in a legal battle of his own over the plot of land he bought in Gigante. After two years of legal proceedings against a local man who claimed Pinder was stealing land from him, the filmmaker said he finally settled out of court by agreeing to build a well on his neighbor’s land.
“I went through a learning process and I came out of it with different film from the one I initiated,” Pinder said. “I also now have a different concept of the way the world works, and of human nature.”
Despite some innocence lost, Pinder says he still thinks the development boom in and around San Juan del Sur has “brought more bad than good.”
“I get a lot of sh*t from people, even from lefties, who say if you do development responsibly it creates employment and brings evolution and progress. But who is watching over all this and who is to say what is responsible or not, or what helps the locals or not?” Pinder said.
“San Juan del Sur used to be a fishing village and people were damn happy to fish before the gringos came and starting building sh*t,” he said.
But in the end, Pinder said, LAND is not just about development in San Juan del Sur and the surrounding area, rather a much larger story about power, identity, dreams and what people are willing to do to achieve them.
“The film becomes a global metaphor,” Pinder said. “And things are not so black and white.”
To see the trailer of Land, visit http://Sandinistas Turn Back Clock vimeo.com/10118478.
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