Violeta Ayala’s fascinating documentary Cocaine Prison doesn’t have anything particularly new to say about the failed social and criminal policies of a thoroughly unwinnable war against narcotraffic. But it does boast a heartbreaking worm’s-eye-view of some of the people most caught up in it. When young Bolivian woman Deisy Torrez’s brother Hernan is caught smuggling a couple kilos of coke, she tries to find some meager legal defense for him while he’s hustled off to the notorious San Sebastian prison, an overcrowded open-air slum where inmates aren’t even guaranteed a cell. There he meets Mario, another cocaine worker.
Ayala relies on clandestine GoPro cameras smuggled into the prison for some truly amazing footage, showcasing not just the inhumane conditions on the inside but a Bolivian culture that’s totally fused with cocaine production. It’s entirely normalized; at one point Deisy even has her fortune read with coca leaves. So even while the film’s conclusion offers a glimmer of hope for these characters, there would appear to be no chance whatsoever of cutting out such a deeply ingrained part of the culture.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 2.