The Biobío River, which begins in the Andes and empties into the Pacific Ocean, in addition to having a high ecological value has a great historic significance. During the conquest of America, Biobío became the natural border separating colonized territories of indigenous lands Pehuenche-Mapuche, whose inhabitants were able to repel the attacks of the Spaniards, and even apprehend, prosecute and execute its captain Pedro de Valdivia.
Now, 500 years after these events, the Biobío River seems to continue to be a matter of dispute between the Spanish and Mapuche. At least that's what the documentary directed by Manel Mayol, Switch-Off says. It recounts the expropriation of Mapuche lands by the Spanish owned multinational corporation, Endesa SA. The facts date back to 1997, when Endesa began construction of the Ralco dam on the Upper Biobío. This project swamped the land, forced the eviction of Mapuche families in the area, and flooded 14 ancient cemeteries of this sacred people.
The documentary is based on a series of interviews, in which those directly affected by the dam, and hose who have joined the cause of the Mapuche people, explain how the company "stole" land, "criminalized" their protests and flooded their territory.
The film, which was recorded during six weeks in 2004, also reveals the difficulties facing indigenous people protesting the construction of the dam. The film explains that those convicted of rebellion against the plans of the company are treated "as terrorists." In addition, detainees suffered accusations by anonymous witnesses, called "faceless witnesses", who’s faces were covered by masks to avoid disclosing their identity.
In one of the interviews that appears in the documentary, a woman accused of terrorist acts explains that after spending more than a year in prison, she decided to escape and go into hiding: "This justice system does not represents the people," she argues in the film .
All this means, as Mayol emphasizes, "the story of the Ralco dam has all the necessary ingredients to make a compelling movie."
Apart from the testimonies of those persecuted for rebelling against the construction of the dam, the documentary includes families who accepted the deal the deal from the company. These Mapuche reported receiving some isolated houses, in poor condition and without lights. They were deceived because they were promised that they would not have to pay for electricity and now must sell their animals to survive.
But not only those who are demonstrating against the dam are persecuted, the editor of a local newspaper in the documentary explains how he was arrested and interrogated by the authorities about his relationship with the team recording of the documentary “Switch Off”.
The director of the film tried to get Endesa’s version of the story for the documentary, but reported no success. On several occasions the film shows the director trying to contact Endesa by phone without success.
Currently, 40 Mapuche prisoners are rebelling against the dam and four indigenous people went on a 40 day on hunger strike.
Here is the video: Switch Off - The Movie.