La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo is a recreation of one day at the Canto Grande prison in Peru, following women guerrillas from the Maoist Shining Path movement, from their morning marches to their bedtime chants. Kept isolated in their own cellblocks, the guerrillas refused to acknowledge that they were imprisoned. Their cellblocks were just another front in the People’s War: “shining trenches of combat”. This film shows the intense indoctrination and belief system of the brutal Latin American insurgency.
About the music: The music for the film was created by Jim Becker and Colleen Burke. Besides writing and touring with his band Califone, Jim Becker most recently has toured with the bands Freakwater and the Dirty Three. As well as playing piano in the band We Ragazzi, Colleen Burke has toured with Smog.
"When members of the Peruvian Maoist revolutionary-terrorist group the Shining Path were captured and imprisoned, the authorities isolated them in their own cellblocks. The guerrillas thought of government prisons as just another front in the People’s War, calling them “shining trenches of combat”. The prisoners organized propaganda, literature, and military classes as well as marches, criticism sessions, and dances.
The Shining Path was known to recruit heavily amongst highland Indians and women. It had the highest proportion of women commanders in Latin American guerrilla history. One of the key roles for women, for example, was to perform the coup-de-grace on a wounded victim. Structured roughly along the pace and schedule of a Catholic mass, the film is filled with the esoteric rituals and dogmatic political theology created by their leader, the former philosophy professor Chairman Gonzalo.
La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo was shot in Hi-8 analog as if it were an amateur video made perhaps by the prisoners themselves in the late 1980s. The location for the film was the New Mexico State Fairgrounds’ 4H Youth Dormitory in the middle of Albuquerque. We painted it with Maoist murals and cast actors in New Mexico who could speak Spanish or Navajo (Dine). Navajo is used because so much of the recruitment for the Shining Path was done in among the Quechua, Ayamara and other Indian groups. Though the film is heavily researched and even uses sections of interviews and poems from guerrillas, it is a fictional film. In this fictionalized Shining Path world, Navajo is spoken in prison. The Navajo actors translated scenes from Macbeth into tape recorders and played it back to better the translation and memorize the dialogue. They helped create the performance as well as the sets for the Revolutionary Theater piece within the film. The rehearsals and choreography for the film were worked out with the help of Working Classroom, an Albuquerque theater group for artists from marginalized communities. Many of the actors were trained there and the collaboration with the organization helped create a real sense of community on the set.
The Shining Path had a unique way of speaking based on didactic Gang-of-Four or Cultural-Revolution Maoism and Gonzalo-Thought, basically the sayings of their leader Guzman. The script is based on a core of interviews, readings and other research which was turned into a stylized version of a day in the life of the cellblock. The music for the film was created before filming by the same musicians that scored my film Interkosmos. I wanted the actors to be surrounded by the language, literature, art and music of the Shining Path to portray the characters as authentically as possible. I was drawn into making this film to try to understand how a 16-year-old Indian girl becomes a trained killer versed in Marxist rhetoric and willing to go to any lengths for a future society of great harmony. Though set in the late 1980s, a movie about terrorist extremists locked away and forgotten in prison with nothing but their ideology has a relevance that doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. The extreme violence and ideological dogmatism of the Shining Path was seen at the time as an aberration among Latin American guerrilla groups, but now it seems that they were more in line with 21st Century guerrilla tactics."
"…A crypto-retro-Marxist faux-documentation of one day in a Peruvian women's prison populated by Shining Path Maoists, Trinchera has the flattened feel and relentless tempo of a long-lost artifact of low-tech propaganda; shot entirely in Spanish and Navajo, complete with large-scale rallies and musical numbers, its compulsive ambition only furthers its enigmas."
--Ed Halter, Village Voice, January 2nd 2007