Photo by Juan Castrillón.

“I did the documentary film not because I wanted to do a documentary film. The documentary film is an outcome of being with the camera during fieldwork” (Juan Castrillón, Interview May 2020).

KIRAIÑIA (Long Flutes) (2019) evolved from Juan Castrillón’s (director and producer) ethnomusicological fieldwork and doctoral research project with the Amazonian Cubeo Emi-Hehénewa community in Southern Colombia. The film is about the process of building a long house and its corresponding musical tradition of making the flutes, the preparations for the performance, and the performance itself. The viewers follow the steps of getting the kiraiñia flutes back from its depository on the ground of a stream, rebuilding them, remembering the dance steps, and teaching them to the younger generation, up to the performance itself at the end of the film.

Castrillón says that his goal is to generate a feel for the daily life of the community, as well as to show the array of alternative possibilities of ethnomusicological filmmaking. Castrillón refers to his project as an artifact that ought to call his audience into an interactive reflection on the film.

The film displays the community members’ many diverse and subjective pieces of memory. Whilst showing different conversations with and between community members, the camera allows the audience to witness the passing down of knowledge and memories from one generation to the next. Thus, the documentary's storyline leads from the process of the kiraiñia flute making, the collective memory of the dancing tradition, to the performance itself at the end of the film. The film gives an insight into the tradition of the kiraiñia and the knowledge and diverse memories of individuals of different generations, as well as into how they interact with each other and their environment. Each member is introduced by their first name and responsibility within the community, creating a strong bond with the viewer.

Castrillón uses elements of audiovisual media to give a detailed and well-reflected glimpse into the lives and musical traditions of the Cubeo Emi-Hehénewa. At the beginning of the film, he draws attention to the various difficulties of the ethnomusicological and anthropological transfer of knowledge. Moreover, he underlines that the following scenes should give a feeling for the community and its tradition rather than “the truth.” He also deals critically with his role as narrator and producer. Castrillón makes it clear that the documentary should be understood as a film than a depiction of reality. Marco Kircher says that documentary films create a reality that seems to be true and real due to the documentary's invisible authority of truth.

This authority is created through the clear, understandable, and seemingly uninterrupted filming process, which the viewers often accept as a given truth to which they happened to be witnesses (Kircher 2012). Castrillón deconstructs this unquestioned authority of the documentary genre for example by letting the audience hear “Luz..., Cámera..., Acción!” (Lights…, Camera…, Action!), which draws them right into the filming process. The film concentrates on the diversity and subjectivities of different memories and voices, partly in a fragmented manner, instead of comparing or unifying them. Castrillón lets people tell their stories in their own way and voice. The camera accompanies that. The community members tell and explain their traditions to one another in a relaxed and rather humorous manner. Castrillón creates a balance between people’s own voices and the correlating background information through written and spoken comments for the viewers’ better understanding.

The documentary film focuses on the memories and the gaps of the memories. Those gaps can also be seen in the use of music. At the start of the film, there is a black screen and the viewers only hear the music of the kiraiñia. At the end of the film, the setting is flipped—the viewers see a performance in which only the first part is shown alongside its music. The rest of the performance is without diegetic music. Instead, Ernesto’s (a community member, healer, and storyteller) background voice gives some informative details on the performance, and the viewers must remember the music from the documentary’s beginning.

The viewers get a feeling for the community and an insight into the tradition of the kiraiñia, its making, and performance. The focus is on the multiplicity so that with every additional viewing the spectators can discover additional details in the film, its conversations, comments, editing, and so on. The film becomes a subjective expedition. These details confirm the complexity of the Cubeo Emi-Hehénewa’s cultural practices, which can’t be completely explained and represented in a film. Castrillón is effectively decolonizing his ethnomusicological fieldwork (and shows us how it can be done) by providing a self-critical reflection on his position as a filmmaker and by providing this “filmic pipeline” for the Cubeo Emi-Hehénewa’s own voices and stories.

His filmwork shows in practice what ethnomusicologist Thomas Solomon reflected on as follows: “[…] ethnomusicology can not only learn from postcolonial studies, but also make a significant contribution to it” by adding “[…] a more embodied, experience-based perspective to postcolonial studies” (Solomon 2012: 235, 217).

In summary, KIRAIÑIA (Long Flutes) gives an interesting and exciting insight into the tradition of the kiraiñia, the life of the Cubeo Emi-Hehénewa, their ways of communicating and remembering, as well as their interaction with each other and their environment. The film offers many ways to be read by its viewers, who may or may not have previous knowledge in the respective fields of research.


Kircher, Marco. 2012. Wa(h)re Archäologie. Die Medialisierung archäologischen Wissens im Spannungsfeld von Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit. Bielefeld: transcript (Historische Lebenswelten in populären Wissenskulturen 7).

Solomon, Thomas. 2012. “Where is the Postcolonial in Ethnomusicology?” In Ethnomusicology in East Africa: Perspectives from Uganda and Beyond, edited by Sylvia Nannyonga-Tamusuza and Thomas Solomon, 216-251. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.