TIFF Docs

Cocaine Prison

Violeta Ayala

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Filmed in Bolivia — including inside the notorious San Sebastian prison — over five years, Violeta Ayala’s latest film provides a ground-level view of the international drug trade through the eyes of its foot soldiers: a drug mule, his sister, and a cocaine worker.

Hernan and his sister Deisy are Bolivian teenagers going to high school in Cochabamba with dreams of starting a band. Driven by the desire to buy a drum kit, Hernan agrees to illegally carry two kilograms of cocaine across the border to Argentina. After he's caught by border police, he's sent to San Sebastian prison, a scarcely staffed open-air facility where the prisoners make most of the rules.

Filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw taught English classes inside San Sebastian and gained remarkable access by putting cameras into the hands of prisoners. We follow Hernan on the inside and Deisy on the outside as they struggle to find a way to shorten his sentence. The film gives a unique perspective on the foot soldiers of the drug trade who suffer the punishment while the bosses operate freely.

Over the four years of filming, the prison facility built for 80 has its population rapidly expanded to 700. While the details are unique to Bolivia, the dysfunction of criminal justice has parallels worldwide. The system is long on corruption and short on fairness. But Deisy never gives up on her brother and considers putting her own future at risk to save him. Their perseverance is mirrored by the filmmakers, who follow a story of desperation to a place of hope.

THOM POWERS

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