COMING BACK FROM THE DEAD

An interview with Alejandro Fernández Mouján, director of DAMIANA KRYYGI

By Samantha Dunn

Alejandro Fernández Mouján is an Argentine filmmaker who alongside his wife, anthropologist Susana Margulies, decided to follow the restoration of the remains of an indigenous Aché girl to her community, one hundred years after her death.
Director Fernández Mouján explores the genocide of the Aché people, an indigenous community from Paraguay through an individual narrative, and the way in which the past still haunts the present. The film unravels the sad story of a young Aché girl taken away from her community to be studied by anthropologists and ethnographers, and follows the restitution of her remains to the present day Aché.
The intention of Mouján, in filming and presenting the story of Damiana Kryygi, was to restore her as a human being, “not as an object of study, but as a human being…as a girl”. The significance of Damiana Kryygi for Mouján, is in what, or who, she represents. As the first dead Aché person to return to her community “she represents all the Aché that didn’t come back”.
What is glaringly, perhaps even discomfortingly, obvious for the viewer, is the way in which Damiana Kryygi highlights the exploitative side of Anthropology. An issue which the filmmaker was very aware of, noting, when I asked him about this, that it was very difficult for him in the beginning. In particular the question of how to treat the photograph of Damiana Kryygi, exposed and naked, was an important one. He stresses: “I didn’t want to repeat the same humiliation one hundred years afterwards”.
The focus on the photographic image of Damiana Kryygi, where she is portrayed nude, is at the forefront of the film. However what interested and guided Mouján, he tells me, is what was on the other side of this photograph:
“For me the main thing that guided me through this film was the questions ‘who were these anthropologists. Who were these anthropologists who were looking at her?’”
In a deliberate attempt at not repeating the same mistakes of the past, Mouján spent time building up trust with the Aché people, “I tried to always be clear with my intentions, what I was looking for, what I was asking them for”. Mouján tells me how the first time the filmmakers went to the restitution ceremony in Paraguay they were not allowed to witness her burial. However, when the second burial took place, they had visited the community many times and the Aché people could see they were truly involved with the story and with Damiana, and they were then invited to attend”.
In this way, Damiana Kryygi ceases to be solely an object of study, further anthropological material, and is rather treated in a way that restores her humanity and gives her an identity. Mouján’s film humanises Damiana Kryygi, who becomes more human in death than when she was alive. Importantly the visual medium of film gives her, and all of the Aché people who remain lost, a means of being remembered.
Whilst focusing on the suffering of the Aché people, Damiana Kryygi broaches issues that are pertinent to many other indigenous communities in Latin America, in regards to their exploitation following the Spanish colonisation. And though the focus is on one individual, the film screened in many countries across Latin America, where the director came across many individuals, particularly women, who identified with Damiana Kryygi and her story.
An observational exposé of the injustices of the past and present and the righting of wrongs, Mouján’s humanistic mission is at the core of Damiana Kryygi. Mouján describes his film above all as an “emblematic story of colonialism, and how the anthropological science has worked with colonialism”.

DAMIANA KRYYGI is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 01:30 PM
Information and tickets here