GYPSIES WITHOUT TENTS portrays the lives of Chile’s estimated 15 – 20,000 Romanies (Gypsies) by documenting the stories of three families and their everyday struggles to reconcile their traditional culture with the advantages offered by cultural assimilation. The film brings us into the families’ homes, their places of worship, the children’s schools, and the markets where the men trade, where the protagonists speak, in the Romani language as well as Spanish, about their lives and their concerns as Chileans and as Romanies. We are shown through the experiences of the subjects themselves the shifting terrain that is Romani identity in the Americas.
The documentary’s treatment of the children’s school captures many of the issues implicit in Romani life: discrimination, gender roles, and frequent travel. Young Deborah wants to be a professional, and her brother wants to be a priest, but they are teased at school for being Gypsies and have few friends. After the family moves away for a few months, the children are too far behind in their classes to want to continue. Another girl says that she is in school only to learn to read, but that she will probably live a typical Romani woman’s life: marriage, children, domestic chores, and petty vending and fortune-telling to make ends meet. The Romani attitude towards mainstream education in this film is markedly ambivalent – while on the one hand it provides opportunities, the Romani are unwilling to lose their children to mainstream culture. But the same institutions and cultural forms that would seem to dissolve Romani cohesion are often fertile ground for the reinvention and reinterpretation of Romani tradition. The evangelical church, for example, provides an important space for the maintenance of Romani culture through the performance of religious songs in Romani language and musical style. In another scene, as soon as one speaker tells us that the art of the improvisatory singing style is dying out, we see his teenage son and a friend improvising an impromptu rap in the living room.
All of this speaks to an assertion that one of the participants in the film makes: “What Gypsies do is adapt. Even if we use cell phones, drive trucks, and live in a house, even if our kids play Nintendo, we don’t stop being Gypsies.” Even so, those interviewed in the film do not see themselves as inherently different as human beings. One man tells the director, “This documentary is important, to show what Gypsies are really like, not the whole show of lights and celebration, but that we have the same problems as any Chilean, that we are humans like any other, that our kids are like your kids.” GYPSIES WITHOUT TENTS eloquently highlights how Romani survival lies in this interplay between adaptation to Chilean life and cultural preservation of Romani roots.
*2004 LASA Award of Merit in Film
*Festival Internacional de Documentales de Santiago (FIDOCS), 2002
*7th Festival Internacional de Cine de Valparaiso, 8/2003
*11th Providence Latin American Film Festival, Rhode Island, 4/2003
We have dozens of documentary videos in the Romani Archives, but "Gypsies Without Tents" is absolutely the best I've seen to date; it doesn't romanticize, it doesn't whitewash, it emphasizes tradition while showing that children are the hope for the future. It demonstrates very well that Romani survival over the centuries has been a process of adaptation, generation to generation. This will be of immense interest to Romani Americans especially.
Prof. Ian F. Hancock, Director, The Romani Archives and Documentation Center
This program...is a very engaging and thought-provoking examination of identity, discrimination, and assimilation. This video is *recommended* for college or public libraries with a focus on Romani, Latin American, or Multicultural Studies.
Jessica Schomberg, Minnesota State University, Mankato/Educational Media Reviews Online