Argentine Filmaker Ricardo Preve: On a Quest to Eliminate the Chagas Disease
By Consuelo Lyonnet on April 06, 2014
Ricardo Preve’s documentary: “A Hidden Affliction"
Preve never went to film school. He worked as an agronomist most of his life. By the end of the century he lost his job as head of a forestry company. One of his friends, a film director doing a science fiction movie, invited him to work with him. “I fell in love with the business,” he said. “It was my opportunity to become an artist.” Working on Chagas disease has been the most rewarding for Ricardo. He grew up in Salta Province in northwestern Argentina where the Chagas disease is prevalent. Many years later, when he started working as a filmmaker, he found out that his childhood’s best friend was afflicted by the disease. He started trying to find out what could be done to help him. But he was immediately struck by the level of ignorance of the general public about what Chagas is, and about the profound human and economic cost of this disease to our society.
At times, it seemed to him that he was the only one concerned about telling the Chagas story. So he decided to use his camera to present the daily lives of those who are suffering from the disease, and to speak to professionals, like Doctor Gustavo Farrugia, who dedicate their lives to fighting Chagas. One of the first things he learned while trying to make this documentary is that the project was a lot more challenging than he had anticipated. As a film director, his job is to communicate a visual language made up of images, yet Chagas is a disease that has very few external symptoms.
A person who we may be interviewing for the documentary could be seriously sick, but there is little visual evidence to show on screen. Even the dreaded "vinchuca", the insect that transmits the disease, is a master at hiding, concealing itself in the cracks of walls and ceilings of rural homes during the day and only coming out at night to bite and infect people. Ricardo had to really consider how best he would present a documentary about such an invisible threat.
Despite the logistic challenges of making this film, he soon learned that Chagas is not so much a medical problem, as a political and social issue. To him, Chagas is a symbolic manifestation of the level of abandonment and carelessness that governments around the world show to those who are poor.
Doctor Carlos Chagas, the man who discovered the disease, once said: "Speak about this illness and you will have all the governments against you."
But maybe the tide is turning. Through making this documentary, Ricardo met many health workers, researchers, and social activists who supported him in the production of this film, sharing their experiences and knowledge in the hope that their support will raise awareness and ultimately help Chagas sufferers everywhere.