Narrative, Aesthetic, and Bolivia’s Frontier Imaginary
The chapter draws from an impressive corpus of visual and written materials that sought to define the March to the East in human and environmental terms. This includes the work of filmmaker Jorge Ruiz, who traveled throughout the Bolivian lowlands documenting colonization for the state and its U.S. sponsors. Ruiz played with the visual distinction between the arid highlands of Bolivia and the tropical lowlands. His camera followed the lives of fictional characters whose migrations through unfamiliar landscapes would overcome profound regional differences and unify a fractured national body. Shown in cinemas across the country, Ruiz’s films helped the state consolidate an enduring frontier imaginary that the future of the country lay in the east. Residents of Santa Cruz responded to such films in conflicting ways. Lowland elites eagerly embraced new highways and railways that would link them to the rest of the nation. Yet they harbored a deep fear of the Andean indigenous bodies that would accompany these new forms of mobility. Ruiz and his images also circulated far beyond Bolivia. His success at transplanting his aesthetic repertoire highlights the flow, pervasiveness, and flexibility of midcentury development ideology and the role of film as a powerful vehicle for representing change.
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