Saturday, 3 December 2011

Aussies in the Andes - (Director: Glen Short)

"The inspiring tale of Jane and John, two extraordinary Australians who choose to live and work in the Peruvian Andes. One is battling to preserve its past... the other striving to improve its future"
On 25th October 2011 I was invited to the World Premiere of this captivating documentary, fittingly showcased here in Cusco, Peru – the place which captured the hearts and imagination of these two extraordinary people.  With insight and charm Glen Short’s documentary portrays the indomitable spirit of these two very different people who through their varying paths came to call the same place home.
Jane Berthelsen is the brains and energy behind one of Cusco’s best loved havens, the very successful Jacks Cafe situated right in the heart of Cusco, Peru.  A welcome slice of modern comforts Jacks Cafe is a refuge for tourists, especially those who have been travelling for some time.  For everyone else it’s the lure of a great cup of coffee, a fabulous feed and the friendly atmosphere that keeps them coming!  Jane herself can usually be seen at the helm, attending tables, chatting to customers and making sure everything’s running smoothly in this, quite simply, exemplary establishment. In addition, Jacks Cafe provides employment and income for the community by employing a profit sharing system with all its staff. Famed for her down to earth attitude and generous spirit Jane is a much loved personality in Cusco.  With her warmth and ready smile it’s easy to forget the struggles she has overcome to achieve her dream. As Glen Short says, "To me the amazing thing is all Jane's OTHER achievements in addition to Jack's Cafe, which now has 40 staff!" An inspiration to all, Jane and Jacks Cafe have become a part of the fabric of what it means to be in Cusco. Never one to rest on her laurels, single Mum Jane, has used her success to help others by founding the NGO project Mantay with three friends.The project provides housing and practical and emotional support to young mothers aged 12-18.  For more information, or ways to support Mantay please visit their website: http://www.mantay.org/

                                                            Jane Berthelsen with Glen Short

John Leivers is another grand personality in Peru though a little harder to track down!  Hailing originally from Perth he has dedicated the last twenty years to documenting and preserving the wonderful Inca and pre-Inca ruins in the Andes.  An adventurer at heart, his work takes him into the unexplored and often inhospitable aspects of the Andean mountains proving beyond doubt his passion for the fabulous cultural treasures left by the ancient Andean people and the abiding strength of his own courageous spirit. 

                                
                                                                              John Leivers

Both these pioneering Aussies in the Andes show their love and understanding of Peru in completely different ways and it’s Glen Short’s ability to decipher and explore both what unifies them and what sets them apart that makes this documentary so satisfying.  By cleverly weaving their different stories together the result is not only a very informative and entertaining documentary, but also an insightful account of two individuals who have taken extraordinary paths.

Here is a resume of the protagonists in Glen’s own words:
Jane Berthelsen hails from country Queensland, but lived in several other Australian states before she decided to backpack around South America, where, enchanted by Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas, she started a successful business that now employs 35 staff. Despite bureaucratic obstacles and enormous cultural differences which she recounts on camera, she has dedicated much of her time to helping disadvantaged young Peruvians, in a very practical manner.
John Leivers comes from Perth, represented Western Australia in surf-lifesaving and played his last game of competitive rugby at age 55. He forgave a promising engineering career to pursue extreme mountaineering and trekking adventures. In South America, he has spent the best part of two decades exploring Andean wilderness areas, documenting Inca and pre-Inca ruins; he describes his varied discoveries, including how he managed to survive several dangerous situations that have killed others -and almost killed him.

In summary Glen Short’s entertaining, inspiring and uplifting homage to Peru and the extraordinary people who have called it home is a real gem.  With access to exclusive footage of ruins and sacred sites, daily scenes from Peru’s streets, and the stunning backdrops of Peru’s glorious landscape this unassuming little film makes a grand impact.
I was most surprised whilst attending the premiere to see myself appear on screen!  Of course the clip would have to be of me chatting non-stop with Jane at a party, not that she needs any encouragement!                  
An interesting aside - you  can read some of Jane Berthelsen's words of wisdom in Emily Hilton's book "Cancer healed me“. This is a personal story of Emily’s struggle to heal herself from cancer. In this upbeat, moving and utterly inspirational account of her life after her cancer diagnosis, Emily, an extraordinary English woman, also shows the love and affiliation she has found with Peru. Having made Cusco her home while she explores the healing options around her and recounts her story, Jane Berthelsen is at her side. Incidentally, Emily also appears in ‘Aussies in the Andes’, being one of the co-founders of Mantay.

About the Director

Glen Short, himself a fellow Australian, has a suitably unusual journey of his own, starting out as a mine electrician and working on the English Channel Tunnel and Canary Wharf developments (also in England) before becoming a writer, actor and documentary film maker. In 1987 his newspaper article won him the opportunity to board the old sailing beauty Anna Kristina for several months sailing on Australia's Bicentennial First Fleet Re-enactment Voyage. He has also travelled extensively throughout Latin America, chronicling some of his adventures in books and films.  Having first visited Mexico in 1984, he returned to South America to explore the continent further and in 1998, experienced one of the most perilous moments of his life: Glen found himself in Antigua, Guatemala when Hurricane Mitch devastated the region. Using excerpts from his dairy, Glen went on to writeAn Odd Odyssey, California to Colombia by bus and boat, through Mexico and Central America.’ (Recommended by Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide, and the South American Explorer's Club).

Video: Odd Odyssey..

The King of Cusco

‘Aussies in the Andes’ is not the only television piece that film-maker Glen Short has produced about Peru. Having first visited Cusco and Machu Picchu in 1990, it wasn’t until his second visit in 2008/Having visited Cusco a number of times Glen noticedthat Glen noticed something about Peruvian culture that usually escapes even the most observant tourists - Peru's obsession with Bollywood! Head down to the local markets where the local people buy their pirated copies of Cd's and Dvd’s and you will find entire stalls dedicated purely to Bollywood themes. This is not only popular amongst the young generation but across the whole of the populace –hop in any taxi and you can find yourself humming along to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Glen Short's discovery inspired him to produce a 20 minute short film exploring the phenomena called ‘The King of Cusco’. This short film was picked up by the Shamiana Film Club and was very popular in India.

Here is a 7 minute introductory footage:


And it seems it’s not only Peruvians that are obsessed with Bollywood - Glen Short caughtthe Bollywood fever and can be seen pictured (below) with the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. Glen now has a string of Bollywood titles under his belt (Ta Ra Rum Pum, Pazhassi Raja,Apne, Heyy Babyy,Kismat Konnection, My name is Anthony Gonsalves amongst others) having made cameo and acting appearances.


I met briefly with the director, Glen Short, and posed the following questions:

Do you intend to pursue your Bollywood and acting career?
Glen: "I had a lot of fun in Bollywood, but I think acting is an over-glamourized profession - I am more proud of my low-selling book, documentaries and years as a teacher in Colombia than my time in India in front of the camera."
Have you any other film projects or books in the pipeline for Peru or South America?
Glen: “ A history/travel book I have been working on for 9 years is only half finished - even though its bibliography runs to more than 25 pages!”.
Also, I am into "zoomable" gigagpans now - and want to document scenes around Cusco like this one I shot today:http://gigapan.org/gigapans/93894/snapshots/250284
You have spent considerable time living in and travelling throughout Peru - how would you describe that experience?
Glen:  “Although I first travelled through Peru in 1990, I have mainly only been in Cusco and Iquitos for long periods - and I like them both a lot, and possibly have more good friends in these two towns than anywhere else. I do like the Peruvian coast too. Peru has a lot to offer in terms of diversity. I have not had any bad experiences in Peru, that's one reason on I keep coming back. Another is the climate in Cusco - apart from occasional shortness of breath, I find it invigorating. And the food is scrumptious!”
For uptodate info on Glen Short please visit www.madaru.net where Glen will be starting a travel diary/blog soon.
As people who love Cusco and Peru it’s always gratifying to find others who have been touched by the specialness of this amazing land.
Next showing of Aussies in the Andes
Glen is coordinating another showing of his feature length film in Cusco, Peru to support a local Peruvian family. Proceeds from this event will be donated to Miguel Jove Mamani’s widow. Miguel Jove Mamani was a very well known and loved Cusqueñan who was a guide and South American Explorers Club volunteer. Miguel died 22 November 2011, aged 32.
Date to be confirmed – we will keep you posted!

Thinking of travelling to the Andes, Cusco and Peru?

Visit the DolatinAmerica website NOW: www.dolatinamerica.com

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