Bolivian film ‘Utama’ depicts a native culture and a climate in crisis

An elderly man (José Calcina) struggles to survive amid a climate crisis in "Utama," Bolivia's official submission for this year's Oscars, in the best international film category.

“Utama,” an award-winning drama about cultural survival amid an urgent climate crisis, and Bolivia's official Oscar submission for best international feature this year, will open Nov. 11 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. 

Released by Kino Lorber in the United States, the film marks the debut feature of Bolivian filmmaker Alejandro Loayza Grisi and was photographed by award-winning cinematographer Barbara Álvarez. “Utama,” which means “our home” in the Quechua language, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

The film centers on the Quechua, an indigenous population living in the Andean highlands from Ecuador to Bolivia. An elderly Quechua couple, Virginio (José Calcina) and wife Sisa (Luisa Quispe), have been struggling to survive. During a long drought, they face a dilemma: resist or be defeated by the environment and time itself. Filmed in Quechua and Spanish, “Utama” features a non-professional cast, including the two leads. 

In Variety, critic Peter Debruge called the movie “sublime. From the breathtaking opening shot, the film looks unlike anything else.” Writing for, Marya E. Gates, declared, “Rarely has the [climate] crisis been addressed as organically.”

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