The Ninth Annual Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival is currently underway. The virtual summit, which features panel discussions on whistleblower topics and screenings of relevant films, is being held from July 28 through August 1. The event is in celebration of National Whistleblower Day, which is on July 30. Over forty films are featured at the festival. For a full schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit here.
One of the featured films of the festival is In Nicaragua, They Name Me Chepito (Au Nicaragua, on m’appelle… Chepito), directed by Jean Luc Chevé. The documentary focuses on Jo Chevelier, aka Chepito, an elderly retired French farmer who has joined a local French NGO, Exchange and Solidarity 44, that aids farmers in Nicaragua. One of the main acts of aid by Exchange and Solidarity 44 is a yearly shipment of restored farm equipment from France to Nicaragua. A few years ago, Chevé donated his uncle’s old hand-drawn sower to the shipment. He decided to accompany Chepito on a trip to Nicaragua to find the recipient of the sower. He decided to make a film about the experience.
The arc of the film follows Chepito and Chevé’s trip through Nicaragua. Cheptio has visited Nicaragua consistently over the past three decades. This trip involves a series of visits to his friends and companions in towns and the countryside throughout the country. As Cheptio reconnects with old companions, Chevé will often invite them to tell their stories to him and his camera. These stories recount the heroics and horrors of the Nicaraguan revolution and contra-revolution that rocked the country from 1970-1989 as well as the efforts to rebuild communities in the ensuing years. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, one of Chepito’s closest Nicaraguan friends recounts the brutal murder of her husband and daughter at the hands of U.S.-backed Contra militants. Powerfully, Chevé is thus able to craft a historical and political film in scope, but that remains grounded in the present and the personal. Chevé does not deploy archival footage or talking-head interviews like most contemporary documentaries are wont to do. Instead, he allows the Nicaraguan people he meets to tell the nation’s recent history through their lived experiences. Chevé does add some historical context through voice-over monologues, but these are few and far between. In addition, he utilizes footage of murals, and footage of Chepito and friends discussing the murals, to further supplement the film’s recounting of Nicaraguan history. This unique device also powerfully ties Chevé’s film to Latin America’s rich tradition of murals, which, like his film, recounts history through images.
Importantly, In Nicaragua, They Name Me Chepito does not just focus on the history of the Nicaraguan Revolution and the atrocities of the U.S.-backed Contra militants. The film also documents the ongoing efforts of farming communes in Nicaragua, which strive to foster directly democratic, economically self-sufficient, and ecologically sustainable communities. These communes have consistently been aided by international support such as that offered by Exchange and Solidarity 44. Still, the film does not venture into the white-savior territory. Instead, it gives ample credit to the immense work of the Nicaraguan communities themselves. In the film, we are shown a school that teaches the children of local farmers sustainable and traditional farming techniques. Chevé does not idealize the work in these communes in a way that would trivialize them. The film conveys the years of tireless labor that have gotten the communes to where they are today and is honest about the amount of work and capital needed to grow and sustain the communities.
Above and beyond offering a Nicaraguan history lesson, In Nicaragua, They Name Me Chepito is a testament to the power and necessity of global solidarity among working people. The film documents the material difference that the French farmers have been able to make in Nicaragua. For example, communes now have sewing machines, allowing them to make bee-keeping suits to farm honey. Additionally, the film is a testament to the personal benefits of global working class solidarity. Cheptio and other Frenchmen in Nicaragua speak glowingly about how their experiences have charged their lives with meaning and purpose. A majority of the film is a document of the powerful friendships Chepito has forged over decades of solidarity.