A film he first gave us a hint of last year, Ivan Olita (last seen on DN here) makes his fourth appearance on our pages today with Tears of the Moutain, a documentary short which unpacks the creation myth behind the dormant volcano which sits upon the world’s largest salt flat. Framed through the experiences of local sculptor Nico, a man who has spent his life in the Uyuni Salt Flats transforming blocks of salt into art, Olita explains how his fascination with creation stories drew him to this place of myth, beauty and enviable energy.
Sala de Uyuni is one of the most iconic places on earth. Modern-day maps named it after the small town near its south-eastern shore but ask the local people, and you will learn its name is linked not to Uyuni but to the sacred mountain of Tunupa. The Myth narrates that Tunupa was once a goddess whose husband left her for another mountain after he got her pregnant. Heartbroken, she wept salty tears, which mixed with her breast milk to form the Salar de Uyuni.
As a filmmaker, I am fascinated by stories and specifically those of origin and creation as they are the ones that eventually become myths. Myths are potent ways to investigate our reality from a different perspective – they inform the life of the people from the area they belong to and can help us connect with it more profoundly.
When I decided to head to the Salt Flat and document it, I really had no idea how to approach it. I was there only for a week, and I needed an angle so I started looking for characters that could guide me. I needed someone that lived there but at the same time was not confined to the village and had to go into the Flats every day which is kind of rare unless you work in tourism. I wanted a person that was connected to the place from a cultural and experiential standpoint only. A figure that could trace their roots to the Salt Flats itself, someone that could live informed by its myths.
Nico, together with his brother, proved to be the perfect subject as he is the only artist of the minuscule community of people living around town which provides him with an exceptional status. He has barely traveled so although he understands that the Salt Flat is a “one of a kind place on earth” he also does not know any different for his every day. His life has been informed by the whiteness surrounding him since he is 5 years old.
By documenting his daily rituals, I wanted to investigate how they represent the combination of something very unique. This piece is more like poetry in this sense. I’m allowing myself to dig into Nico’s experiences, and put them together in a way that mixes the mythology of the place with the realness of his everyday tasks. It’s about combining his family legacy together with his artistic practice and everyday duties to bring to the film a better understanding of the Salt Flats.
I wanted a person that was connected to the place from a cultural and experiential standpoint only.
Nico is on one end a modest worker, on the other end he somehow found the impulse to turn his labor into something that lives on a more elevated realm, he painlessly works all day long, turning chunks of salt into sculptures in a sort of self-induced meditative state, chewing coca leaves in the heat of the boiling sun. It is as if he connects him to a higher dimension. The Salt Flat is a nurturing entity to him, it provides for him and his family, and it has to be treated accordingly, as per the teaching of his elders.
To top all of the above, there is another additional thing to be said about the Salt Flats which is that this flat white sea contains as much as 70 percent of the world’s reserves of lithium which makes it primarily the most valuable source of energy on earth today. And I was also extremely fascinated by that. How the energy of the myth intertwines with the one of the tech industry, that in a way, is our contemporary myth…
I see this piece as about relationships between man and nature, maybe co-dependence but most of all an attempt to identify the connection that exists between places that live in the collective consciousness and the people that actually inhabit them. The Salt Flats are both one of the most sought-after natural touristic wonders of the world as well as the biggest energy-reserve existing on the planet, yet, very few people live there. It ends up being about perspectives, about an objective status-quo assigned to a territory and the subjective experience of it, mediated by someone rooted in it, that is at the same time author and spectator of its narrative.