Shantytown Residents Film Their Own Movie

by Amelia Batho, Contributing Blogger

No make up, no set, no fake guns needed. In this movie, the slum dwellers acted, shot and scripted a movie
that reflects their own violent reality.

Far from the glamor of Palermo and the pleasing aesthetics of San Telmo architecture, in the neighborhood of Barracas lies a Buenos Aires slum, Villa 21Directed by Victor Ramos, ‘La 21, Barracas’ is the story of Villa 21, the storyline is fictional but the story it tells about daily life is very real. The film is based on the slum during the 90’s when a number of gangs were controlling the squalid streets – there was no state rule and no laws, and without police, the gangs took the law into their own hands.

In the film, two opposing gangs control different areas within the slum and are separated by the physical barrier of the Riachuelo River which further incites the territorial conflict. This conflict is part of daily life for the residents and no one bats an eye to a group of men walking down the street laden with dangerous weapons. The plot revolves around the disappearance of a local girl and what happens as a result – speculation leads to assumption which leads to a gang member sentenced to death. And of course, no war tale can be told without the accompanying love story – which in this case is unfortunately entangled into the conflict.

The film shows the harsh realities of life in Villa 21, but it also shows the humanity- local celebrations and a touch of humour in the script remind the viewer that there is a lot more to the slum, than just gang culture.

The film is shot in a documentary style which gets you up close and personal with the gang members. At one point I felt like I was sitting on the laps of the protagonists as they carried out their gang meetings. The footage is also raw and takes you through the labyrinth of back alleys and run down buildings in the slum world, somewhere very few non residents will ever go.

To set the tone, the beginning of many scenes is driven by Reggaeton music composed for the film by Cristian Rey, a local artist whose lyrics perpetuate the thoughts of the residents.

All the cast members are inhabitants of the slum and many input their life experiences into the script, thus giving it that extra authenticity. For many of the protagonists, the gang wars of the 90s are still fresh memories and the film was a chance to tell the story to the rest of society. This is the second time many of them have featured in a film about Villa 21. Eszio Massa’s film ‘Villa’ also included nearly 200 local extras.

As well as directing, Ramos is well known for his work with NGO ‘SOS discrimination’ and is a front pusher in the pursuit for slum recognition. This is his second film about Villa 21 – ‘Villera Soy’ is a documentary about life in the slum which he made back in 2007. Sparked by his filming success and progressive efforts, the villa is now home to a cinema and many of the locals, especially those that participated in the film, are studying film and photography – attending workshops and courses supported by Argentine film institutes (such as INCAA). Many of the cast members claim that the film turned their lives around, inspiring them to follow a better direction in life.

The film is still showing at Espacio INCAA Km 3 – Arte Cinema, everyday at 17:40 and 19:40

This movie is an inspiration for the filmmakers of San Telmo Productions “Goals for Girls: The Movie” which shows how girls from a similar shantytown, Villa 31 (Retiro) dare to play a game off limits to women in Argentina: Soccer. The filmmakers are setting up a video workshop for the girls so they can begin to produce short movies.

To find out more, click on the official website:


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