Coca Lives vs. Cocalero

Image       ImageHaving already reviewed Cocalero for this blog, I thought it might be interesting to compare it to Coca Lives (also previously reviewed her by Anna, along with her review of Cocalero) another documentary set in the same province of Bolivia.  Unlike Cocalero, Coca Lives has flown relatively under the radar on film blogs and sites.  Not a single review could be found, even from Rotten Tomatoes.  This is interesting, because I think that Coca Lives is a much better film than Cocalero.  It features some of the same cast of characters: Evo Morales and his staff, the residents of Cupachabra and El Chapare, and the Coca Grower’s Labor Unions.  But Cocalero’s shortcomings were fulfilled in Coca Lives.  The latter has a much wider scope in terms of the people who are given voice.  We hear from Morales, et al, but also from other Bolivian government agents who support the criminalization of coca growing, military personel, a Bolivian anthropologist who relates the history of coca and its importance, a M.D. who talks about the health benefits of coca and why it shouldn’t be considered cocaine, and a consultant to the United States government who says some (not so shockingly) ignorant things about the issue.  It is in this scope that Coca Lives succeeds, as it gives a wider context and history to the current issues at hand.  Even though its cinematic artistry is nothing to be excited about, and several devices were actually distracting to the narrative of the documentary (i.e. some interviews/scenes shot in black and white and given an effect reminiscent of mid-century B&W films, for what seem unclear purposes), I believe it is because of its ambition and scope to which Coca Lives endeavors that makes it the best of these two films about the Bolivian coca growers of El Chapare.

J. Graber


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