Interview with 'We Women Warriors' Director Nicole Karsin

Photo Credit: Nicole Karsin
September 7th, 2012

Filmmaker and Journalist, Nicole Karsin, recently spoke with me about her new film We Women Warriors, which is about indigenous women in Columbia who are struggling to keep the peace.  Here it was Nicole had to say:

Nick- Hi Nicole.

Nicole- Hi Nick, how are you doing?

Nick- Good, how are you?

Nicole- Good!

Nick- We Women Warriors made its world premiere in NY on August 10th and played at  DocuWeeks in La on August 24th.  The film follows 3 native woman caught in the crossfire of Columbia’s warfare who use nonviolent resistance to defend their peoples survival.  First time filmmaker and journalist, Nicole Karsin, is witness to neglected human rights, catastrophes, and interweaves character driven stories about female empowerment, unshakeable courage, and faith, in the endurance of the indigenous cultures in Columbia. Can you tell us a little bit about We Women Warriors?

Nicole- It is a documentary that follows 3 native women in Columbia who are from distinct tribes in distinct regions, and each of them trapped by the conflict in a different way. The film follows them as they use non violent means, personal resilience, and female solidarity, to resist and transcend their situation. 

Nick- It’s an immensely powerful film, and I as I watched it, the violence is obviously very real.  Why did you put yourself in so much danger to film this?

Nicole- I don’t know.  I kind of felt comfortable in the conflict region.  I don’t really know why.  I lived in Chiapas, Mexico for 5 years shortly after the uprising, so Columbia was not my first experience, although different.  I was in Columbia for 7 years, and I can’t stand hospitals, but I can deal with that armed conflict.

Nick- Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a filmmaker?

Nicole- OK. Shortly after college I went to Chiapas, Mexico as an observer through a non-governmental organization from San Francisco called Global Exchange.  From that I worked advising Mayan Women’s Artisan Cooperative, so there’s a little past in terms of the weaving symbols in my film.  I was there for 5 years, and I learned a lot about the struggle for indigenous rights; that was definitely a huge part of my early formation.  I went to get my masters in journalism knowing that I wanted to cover conflicts in Latin America, and feeling that based on living on the ground in Chiapas, and seeing how it was covered, I felt like more could be done.

After I graduated from Journalism school, I had a couple of different jobs, and the summer before I had interviewed 3 Columbian women at a conference in El Salvador. I had not been to Columbia but was moved by their stories.  I had a story I was going to run on the Village Voice, but it was killed after 9/11, and one of the women who I had interviewed happened to come to New York on a speaking tour right after I had gotten let go of because of the economy.  I was without a job and she said, “Why don’t you come to Columbia and you can stay at my house and you can do some freelance work”, and I said, “Sure”.  One month turned into three months, and then after that I came back to the US and I got a gig with free speech radio news to do weekly radio reports, because I really wanted to cover Columbia.  I worked as an independent journalist doing various freelance in photography and radio.

Nick- So, all this started your drive to go do this in Columbia?

Nicole- Yes.  While I was in Columbia I feel like the means to do independent filmmaking really opened up.  Digital cameras weren’t available previously, and just started becoming available while I was in Columbia.  A friend gave me a version of Final Cut 2, and I bought myself a camera with the intention of learning to shoot.  I brought my camera out on interviews, and really struggled with putting the camera on the tripod, very rudimentary.  Gradually through experience I learned how to film, and I definitely had some colleges giving me pointers.  I did a couple of pieces with my digital camera, and it so happened that one day when I went out to shoot there was a protest in the main presidential plaza, which was right down the street from my house, and a Kankuamo leader had been assassinated three days after the inter-American court on human rights decreed that the Columbian government should do more to protect the Kankuamos who were being killed off by the paramilitaries.  It was very tragic and there was protest going on, and I went and filmed it, and that actually is the beginning and the end of my film.  So I was shooting things in the beginning not knowing that they were going to be part of my film, just covering what was going on, and what I cared about, and what seemed interesting; gradually realizing that I wanted to do this film on the indigenous plight and there non violent struggle.

Nick- So what years were you filming thins?

Nicole- So, the little parts I just mentioned were 2004-2005, when I would do little things that were part of my radio work or just on my own accord.  I really started doing this as a documentary project from August 2006, thru mid 2009.  Nearly three years, and then I moved back to Los Angeles, where I’m from in 2009, and since then I returned twice to Columbia to do pick up interviews.

Nick- That’s a pretty long span of time.

Nicole- Yeah it’s been a long time. The women in the communities are like you’re still not done?
I thought it would be much quicker but...

Nick- Are they going to get a chance to see the film?

Nicole- Well, they’ve seen it all along but there have been different moments when I thought I was done with the film, but I always showed them the film because in Columbia security is an issue so I wanted to make sure things are not going to have negative repercussions for them in terms of their personal security, that’s very important to me.  Also, sharing it with them as a collaborative project, not giving them editorial control of course, but just sharing the process with them because they are a part of it.  They’ve seen different cuts throughout for the past 3 years, and I am very pleased to say that we’ve done a lot of work and Flor Ilva, who is the film's narrator, is going to becoming to the US, but unfortunately she’s not going to make the premiere because she is going to be in a march the big protest in her region. 

Nick- Along with her and the other women, were they apprehensive about being in this documentary?

Nicole- It was a little bit of a process with each one.  Ludis I met while she was in prison and I did that one interview with her when she was there. I had never met her before, and a year later I started following her.  It was different because she was incarcerated, and I was a sympathetic female, and not many people were caring about what was happening to her so there it was a little different in terms of trust with her.  I feel like she had trusted me maybe more than others from the start because of her situation, her vulnerability.  Flor I started filming when she was travel governor, and they were in this economist process to deal with crisis of the military occupation in the barracks. She is an amazing leader, and of course I was just filming her, and really drawn to her.  I hadn’t asked her formal permission to be in my film yet, and in the beginning she was like, “Who is this gringo woman following me with a camera?”.  She didn’t trust me, and it’s a situation of war, and I’m an outsider, and they don’t know what my intentions are for, and I totally understand that.  With Doris it was a little bit different because when she was in Bogota the day of the press conference, the day of the massacre in her village, I met her in the office of Columbia’s National Indigenous Organization and the president of Indigenous Organization introduced me to her; so that immediately provided a little bit of trust because I was getting introduced to her by someone she trusts, even though she was also in a very vulnerable situation.  Then I lost track of her, she was laying low for a little while, and in order to find her again the president of Columbian’s International Indigenous Organization made the phone calls to introduce her to me again, and that helps with her having some idea of where I was coming from. 

Nick- She seems like a very active women with the movement, doris?

Nicole- Yeah definitely.

Nick- So, my last question is that there are a lot of scenes where the women are shown weaving bags and that sort of thing, and Doris even talks about it at the end, what’s the significance behind that?

Nicole- So, it’s a multilayered significance on a very practical level.  It’s how the women of these communities survive, and how the women in many communities survive.  They don’t get much for their artisan projects and their usually exploited with prices, and intermediaries come and buy them and resell them for a lot more to foreigners.  It’s been a native women female tradition for more than 5 centuries; it’s a way they’ve been able to maintain their culture, and actually sometimes been a way of recording history.  It’s also symbolic and represents female solidarity and the weaving together of the 3 stories.

Nick- Cool. It’s a great film and it’s really important to show the world this kind of film because a lot of people are not aware of these things, and that they still go on. You did a great job and our audience is definitely going to have to check out We Women Warriors, which came out August 24th at DocuWeeks.  When will it be on DVD?

Nicole- I haven’t figured out my distribution, but it will definitely be distributed one way or another. 

Nick- Thank you for talking with me Nicole.

Nicole- Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.