Before We Knew Nothing

Rental Format(s): 16mm film

A portrait of the Ashaninka who live in the tropical forest of eastern Peru.

A reflection on the experience of living and filming among people who continue to resist the standards of the modern world.

Two trips were made to Peru for a total of seven months of living and filming in two Ashaninka villages. The film is structured into a series of days with the progression of days leading into a growing involvement with the central family of the film.

The Ashaninka live in the tropical forest of eastern Peru, a region of lush vegetation and rugged terrain. Turbulent rivers carve through and eventually flow north to form the Amazon. Early missionaries and traders found their way in on these rivers but in 1742 the Indians rose up against outside influences. They stood on the shores with bows and arrows killing all white people and no others were allowed to enter the region for nearly 200 years. By the 1900s Indian resistance had fragmented and was finally broken by Peruvian soldiers and aggressive rubber merchants. As a result of this long period of isolation the Ashaninka were able to maintain a strong sense of their Indian identity, keeping the culture relatively intact into the 20th century.

The Ashaninka are a shrewd, reclusive people and not particularly well-disposed to accommodating the activities of strangers, however, as the filming progressed they also demonstrated an awareness of what it meant to be making a record of their culture and themselves.

"The filmmaker spent seven months the jungles of Peru with the Ashaninka Indians to produce not a documentary but an involved interrogation of their life."
--Women in the Director's Chair, Chicago

"If that film is best that lifts us out of the prisonhouse of custom and transports us to other realms, then Before We Knew Nothing would have to be counted one of the treasures of CineFestival. An absorbing achievement in ethnography, despite a lengthy sequence in which her hosts butcher, boil and devour a monkey, it is the record of several months that Diane Kitchen spent among the isolated Ashaninka Indians in the remote forests of eastern Peru."
--Steven G. Kellman, The Texas Observer

Xenon balanced print available upon request.

Rental Fees

16mm film $200.00  

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