Veranada: a secluded gaucho lifestyle threatened by climate change

RIDM 2022 Screening – Photo/Lucia CASSAGNET

Without rain the grass doesn’t grow, and without it the sheep won’t make it through the winter

Veranada is a film highlighting a remote community in the mountains of Argentina. With the summer season coming to an end, the local shepherds have to relocate their flock of sheep, looking for water.

Malargüe, a city in the Argentinian state of Mendoza, is the home of Don Arturo, a lifelong shepherd. His lifestyle and that of a few other gauchos — the Argentinian version of the American cowboy — is threatened by the effects of climate change.

The 2020 rainfall season in the Andes mountains, which separate Argentina and Chile, marked the fifth consecutive year of below-average precipitations. Some hoped that El Niño would bring more wet days, but unfortunately, a dry spell looms ahead.

Without water, the various rivers that slide through the chain of mountains and valleys cannot supply all the communities and ranches.

At the end of the Veranada, the summer season for those who herd animals in the mountains, Don Arturo packed his limited belongings onto his horse and took his sheep someplace else, hoping to find a more suitable location to settle with the animals.

“I didn’t know going there that they were struggling with climate change, I realized very soon that they were. And it was a very big concern to them. Their way of life, as they see it, it’s kind of threatened,” explained producer and director of Veranada, Dominique Chaumont, after the screening of the film at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

Living a life that is as old as the country’s founding days, these gaucho communities have no other method of communication than a radio that is always turned on, transmitting messages between citizens from towns away.

From warnings of storms to seeking employment, to wishing a happy eightieth birthday to a father living in another town, the radio is the only thing that keeps the community connected with the outside world.

In the film, the simple tasks completed by the gauchos on a daily basis are shown through a series of long, patient still shots — some even being several minutes long. The narrative creates an immersive experience of this centuries-old way of living.

Filming in a town that exists outside of modernity brought a set of constraints to the three-people team that consisted of Chaumont’s project.

While working without electricity, living in a tent and navigating the mountains on horseback, the producer and her two companions had to pack wisely and lightly — something that the film’s protagonist does every day.

With only two cameras and two solar panels, they had to turn the cameras on only at specific times to ensure the best use of the battery.

In total, about seven and a half hours of footage were gathered in a span of three weeks, while the filmmakers lived alongside the gauchos, earning their trust.

Chaumont, a native of Mendoza, 300 kilometres away from Malargüe, discovered a way of life that most in her native country don’t even know about. She also discovered what it’s like to live on the brink of extinction.

“That was their concern, and that was their story. And I wanted to tell their story,” she said. 

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