San José – The Moon is Our Light (San José - Der Mond ist unser Licht)

The film accompanies the inhabitants of San José through their daily lives for six months. It documents the life of the village community in the tropical lowlands of northern Bolivia, on the edge between tradition and modernity.

The ancestors of Don Faustino and his neighbours once hunted through the rainforest and planted maize, rice and yucca in small plots made arable by slash-and-burn. After one or two years, they moved on and the forest reclaimed the cropland.

Today, San José is a village of 450 inhabitants. Franciscan monks founded the mission in 1716 and brought together the Tacanas from the flat lands and the Quechuas from the high-lying Andean valleys. With the establishment of the mission, the nomads eventually settled down.

The region is part of the most biologically diverse forests in all of South America. For the last several years, there have been intensive efforts to establish a national park nearly 2 million hectares in size. San José is the only village that would lie within the planned park.

Because of its remoteness – it can only be reached by trekking 30 km or taking a 1-2 day trip by motorboat – the lifestyle of the people has changed very little over the centuries. Hunting and slash-and-burn agriculture are still their way of life. But because they gave up their nomadic life under the influence of the missionaries, the rainforest soil, unsuitable for permanent agriculture, is subject to extreme stress.

Particularly those of the younger generation, more in contact with the outside world through schooling and military service, are leaving San José to live in urban centres.

The dependency on products of “civilization” is increasing in the village itself, creating the need to earn money. Today, that occurs almost exclusively through illegal sales of mahogany. Depending on the market situation throughout past decades, the inhabitants have sold gold, coffee or wild animal skins to wandering traders. In the meantime, international logging and oil companies offer the young people jobs as day-labourers. If the area around San José is designated a national park, the inspectors of the park administration would not only increasingly restrict the illegal tree-felling, but also stringently regulate slash-and-burn and hunting.


Writer, Director, Camera, Sound: Jens Schanze
Editor: Inge Ritter
Editing for Television: Bodo Fabian, NDR
Thanks to: Conservación Internacional, Programa Bolivia
Producer: Jens Schanze for NDR and Deutsche Welle

Production Notes

Countries: Bolivia, Germany
Year: 1995
Shooting Format: S-VHS, colour, 4x3
Screening Format: Betacam SP
Running Time: 44 minutes