PLAZUELA, Ecuador – The eight elderly widows who are the last remaining inhabitants of this Andean hamlet bounded by rivers say they will spend the rest of their days in Plazuela.
Self-reliant and joyful women who have endured the ravages of time, they are proud to have participated in a film about their lives, “Cuando ellos se fueron” (“When they left)” – the “they” being their late husbands.
For filmmaker Veronica Haro Abril, who spent part of her childhood in Plazuela, part of the motivation for the documentary was to erase the stigma of old age.
In a hamlet of no more than 30 houses, many of them derelict, the widows found themselves forced to learn how to be brave, a responsibility that was formerly borne by their late husbands.
Their children are also gone, in search of jobs and opportunities that are sorely lacking in Plazuela.
Without hesitation, the widows affirm that they will die here, where their memories are.
Maria Pallo, 76, looks forward to visits from her children and grandchildren and even to the occasions when she brings Andean herbal remedies to a sick neighbor.
The widows often venture to the neighboring parish of Baquerizo Moreno to practice embroidery and weaving, though Pallo spends most of her time caring for her plants and raising chickens and guinea pigs.
Approaching the century mark, Anita Velasco has forgotten a lot of things, but vividly recalls participating in Haro’s film.
Gloria Medina, 81, says she is thankful to God for having lived in Plazuela and for having gotten to know “Verito,” as Hara is known here.
“I grew up here, with my grandparents, surrounded by neighbors’ grandchildren,” Haro, adding that her first film had the good fortune of having as protagonists “the grandmothers here and this site, which is another character in the film.”
None of the widows can conceal their affection for Haro, whose grandmother, Rosario, was the community’s leader before her death while the film project was under way.
At first, the widows were not comfortable with the demands of making a film, but they went along to “please the granddaughter” and came to enjoy the process, Haro says.
And the widows were even happier when they saw the finished product, according to the filmmaker, who said that “Cuando ellos se fueron” enjoyed a tremendous reception last month at the 2019 edition of Encounters of the Other Cinema (EDOC), an international documentary film festival held annually in Quito since 2002.
“This is a land that is alive,” but is in the process of being abandoned, Haro says, adding that she fears Plazuela is on a path to extinction.
The idea for the film came to her when she was attending a film workshop in Tenerife, Spain.
“Cuando ellos se fueron” had its debut a few months ago in Switzerland and Haro has received invitations to screen the film in the United States, France and Cuba.
Beyond artistic success, however, Haro hopes the film will become an educational tool in schools and retirement homes.