Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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The Commercial Value of Indo and Afro-Colombian Bodies: Romelli’s Gold Platinum (1937)
Isabel Arredondo

Last modified: 2010-05-12


A Journey to the Operations of the South American Gold Platinum Co. in Colombia South America (1937) depicts Kathleen Romelli’s 1937 trip to remote areas on Colombia’s Pacific coast. The Gold and Platinum Company commissioned Romelli, who was married to an engineer of the company, to make a 16mm silent film that documented  new technology being employed in the company’s Colombian sites. In 1919, the British based company acquired 10,000 acres of land and 50 miles of river bottom and flats for extracting gold and platinum. However, given the low returns of the extractions, in the mid 1930s the mining company decided to invest in upgrading the machinery for extraction in order to increase revenues. Gold Platinum, as the film is known today, was made to convince stockholders on the international market to invest in the company.


The specifically commercial goal of Gold Platinum seems at odds with Romelli’s choice of narrative structure and filmic strategies. As if it were a travelogue, and not a film commissioned for stockholders Romelli includes a map of the places visited; she organizes her film according to the order of the places visited; most importantly, she frames the machinery for extraction in the background, highlighting in the foreground the Indian and African Colombians and the places they inhabit. Today, Gold Platinum is not known for its display of mining technology or studied in relation to European investments in Latin America, but is known for its historical and ethnographic value. The Patrimonio Fílmico del Chocó, a Colombian institution dedicated to the preservation of film at the regional level, restored the 16 mm nitrate print because it documents life in the Chocó region in the 1930s.


My paper, “The Commercial Value of Indo and Afro-Colombian Bodies: Romelli’s Gold Platinum (1937)” focuses on the ways in which Romelli’s camera moves away from the goals of a commissioned film and enters the realm of ethnographic film discourse. How can we make sense of the use of ethnically marked bodies within the profit context of the international stock market? In general, 20s and 30s ethnographic travelogues were shown in educational venues and not in commercial theaters, and for that reason they were considered, at the time, films whose main purpose was knowledge. Tom Gunning and Robert Altman have shown that ethnographic travelogues might not have specific commercial revenues for the people that made them, but that they contributed to the status and reputation of the travelers. My article will take this discussion a step forward suggesting that in some cases, as in Romelli’s Gold Platinum, the bodies and lives of ethnically marked subjects are used in a markedly commercial context, thus further undermining the idea that travelogues are purely educational.  

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