On May 13, director Pamela Yates, producer Paco De Onís, and editor Peter Kinoy launched a special screening and discussion of their documentary film “Disruption” at ThoughtWorks’ Technology Salon in New York City.
“Disruption” takes the filmmakers’ body of work, which has long focused on human rights and transitional justice, in a new direction. The film opens by showcasing the Bogotá-based NGO Fundación Capital’s efforts to work directly with women in Colombia and Peru, and later Brazil, to fight poverty and inequality through the Women Savers program, which empowers women to open bank accounts and save money. Thanks to hands-on training—which later evolves into Colombia LISTA, an innovative financial tutorial program delivered by tablet—the women in the film not only develop a new knowledge of their rights and abilities, but are inspired to open their own businesses and become social and political leaders in their communities.
Eventually, recognizing both the achievements and the shortcomings of conditional cash transfer programs such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil, where beneficiaries age out of the system when children graduate from school, Fundación Capital takes its model abroad to other parts of the Americas. The film crew shadows members of the NGO as they visit government ministers in Rio de Janeiro and Citi executives in New York City to find out if their financial inclusion programs can be scaled to a national and regional level and used to create permanent change.
Many of the Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian women featured in the film grew up in extreme poverty and began working as young children to support their families. Some have now opened businesses of their own, like Agripina Perea, who later used her savings to open a community restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia. “I may be poor, but I don’t think like a poor person anymore,” she said, testifying to the way Fundación Capital’s program gave her a chance to follow her ambitions. Another beneficiary was motivated to join local politics and is now a city councilmember in Chinchero, Peru.
Yates and her team at Skylight Pictures are well known for a filmography that spans more than three decades. Their work began with “When the Mountains Tremble” (1983), which followed the story of Guatemalan Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú and the violence against Guatemala’s Maya population during its 36-year armed conflict. The filmmakers’ 2011 follow-up, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” follows the efforts to investigate the atrocities years later, eventually culminating in the May 2013 conviction of former President Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Along with the powerful testimonies of Ixil survivors, Yates’ documentary footage from the 1980s played a role in the conviction—which was overturned just weeks later on a legal technicality.
The filmmakers joined the audience for an in-depth discussion of the film after the screening. Yates said that unlike her past films, “Disruption” was a “propuesta” (proposal) film to promote financial literacy and inclusion, rather than a “denuncio” (denunciation) against human rights abuses. Although the film covered new ground for her and the crew, they also began to realize that conditional cash transfer programs were not enough to combat inequality—that it was necessary to promote financial literacy and financial inclusion.
But that even this is not enough, Yates said, without promoting active citizenship and political engagement. This becomes evident at the end of the film, when the women are teaching each other the skills they have learned and begin to recognize their own power to start businesses and run for office. “The final part of the film connects us to the films we made in the past,” Yates explained.
“It’s not just about money,” an audience member observed during the discussion. “It’s about the power of helping each other and coming together.”