A filmmaker and historian, Rick Tejada-Flores has made a nice career out of telling other people’s stories: Cesar Chavez (The Fight in the Fields), Diego Rivera (Rivera in America) and José Clemente Orozco (Orozco: Man of Fire), among others. Like the vast majority of documentary filmmakers, the veteran East Bay producer-director and all-around mensch was deeply allergic to stepping in front of the camera and making himself the subject. Ultimately, he realized he had no choice in order to recount his family’s saga in Bolivia.
The patiently probing and highly rewarding My Bolivia, Remembering What I Never Knew traces the strands of the Tejada clan from La Paz to Los Angeles (where the filmmaker was born) back to La Paz and on to the isolated rural countryside. Tejada-Flores’ personal journey expands into a mini-history of Bolivia in the 20th century, an edifying and gratifying development for viewers (like this correspondent) whose entire knowledge of the landlocked South American country was gleaned from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Tejada-Flores informs us at the beginning of My Bolivia of his ancestors’ prominence: He knew as a small boy that his grandfather had been president (José Luis Tejada Sorzano, from 1934 to 1936). But he was intentionally kept in the dark for decades about the ways in which the Tejadas gained—and lost—their wealth and influence. It’s a shocking legacy, and how Tejada-Flores decides to handle it gives the one-hour doc its transcendently bittersweet ending.
My Bolivia, which premiered in May at the inaugural DocLands Documentary Film Festival in Marin County, airs Sunday, Oct. 8 at 7 at 11pm and Monday, Oct. 9 at 7am and 1pm on KQED World as part of the Doc World series. If you miss it or forget to record it, My Bolivia will be available to stream for 90 days thereafter at the Doc World site. (Be forewarned, the trailer doesn’t accurately reflect the tone and pacing of the film.)