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Bolivian Actor Fights the "Water War," and Columbus

You could pass Juan Carlos Aduviri on the street in Bolivia without ever noticing him, but this unassuming man is suddenly famous.

The son of a miner who moved his young family from the country to the growing Bolivian city of El Alto, Aduviri fell in love with movies as a child. But he had little money and no connections, the prospect of being in movies—let alone being a star—was incredibly small. El Alto is populated by first- or second-generation indigenous Aymara migrants from the Bolivian countryside. It’s a crowded, sprawling place. Juan Carlos was one among the many struggling to get by when he heard news that a Spanish movie was to be filmed nearby.

Tambien la Lluvia, or Even the Rain, is a movie nested within a movie based on real events. It tells the story of a fictional film crew that arrives in majority-indigenous Bolivia to make a movie—with cheap, local labor—about a Taino Indian uprising against Christopher Columbus.

While in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba the crew is caught up in an uprising of a different sort. In 1999, a multinational corporation privatized the city’s water supply. Cochabamba has long suffered from water shortages and poor supply infrastructure, which the corporation planned to expand and improve. But privatization raised water prices by 30% or more, making water extraordinarily expensive for the city’s poorest residents. The people rebelled against the corporation in violent protests that pitted Bolivia’s army against its citizens and lasted months.

The corporation ultimately left Bolivia. In the movie, Aduviri, who is hired to play a Taino leader by the film crew, is also a protest leader during the modern “Water War,” as it came to be known throughout Bolivia. The film, by Spanish director Iciar Bollain, earned 13 Goya Award nominations (the Goya is Spain's Oscar equivalent). Aduviri was nominated in the best male newcomer category, but did not win. Tambien la Lluvia made the shortlist of nine films for the Oscar for Best Foreign-language Film, but did not make the final list of five nominees. It opens in a few major American cities Friday, February 18. (You can find out where it's playing on the film's English-language site

INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY MEDIA NETWORK: Tell us a little bit about your role in the film.

JUAN CARLOS ADUVIRI: I play two people in the movie. First I play Daniel, who is from Cochabamba and lives in a marginal area of the city that lacks water. He organizes to demand the basic right of water. And when this transnational is raising the price of supply the people of Cochabamba rise up, and Daniel rises up with them. He organizes his neighborhood in opposition to the transnational and organizes the protests and the struggle.

The other role I play is Hatuey. Hatuey is a Taino who faces the arrival of white people and the atrocities they commit against the people. He rises up with the people of his tribe and organizes against Christopher Columbus to free his people.

Has playing these roles changed your daily life?

I have tried to not let it. The life I’ve made, my daily routine and living in this society made me the man I am. I try to not let everything that this movie is generating, all the fame, all the recognition, affect my daily being. But it does affect things like my vision of my responsibility to society.

I feel very responsible to fight for art and culture. Now I feel that more can be done. And when I have opportunities to talk with the international press it gives me a chance to talk about Bolivia—the constant struggles, many sadnesses and great victories it has had in its history. Knowing that there were a people like the Taino who rose up only to lose against the Spanish colony—but rose up anyway—motivates me and makes me think that we can do great things. The people of Cochabamba in the same way rose up against another giant—but they won. Cochabamba won, and Bolivia won.