MAXIMA – Review by Rachel West
Claudia Sparrow’s inspirational documentary Maxima chronicles seven years in the fight of its titular heroine against the gold mining operation intent on seizing her land and destroying natural environmental resources.
The film tells the incredible story of Máxima Acuña and her family’s plot of land in the remote northern highlands of Peru. The Acuña family live off the land, relying on the crops and animals they raise for their livelihood. But their peaceful patch of nature is located in the path of the Yanacocha Gold Mine’s plan to expand its open pit mine directly into Máxima’s territory. Indifferent to the human and environmental cost their expansion would bring to the community, the mining company – majority-owned by the U.S. company Newmont – will use their seemingly-endless resources of money, power, and political connections to seize the land the Acuñas rightfully own.
As a film, Maxima offers little innovation when it comes to documentary filmmaking, telling its story through standard interviews, personal recordings, and visuals of its figures in action. While the narrative arc treads a familiar David vs. Goliath path, Maxima is nevertheless intriguing thanks to its central figure.
Though she stands at less than five feet tall, Máxima Acuña is a quietly powerful figure in not just her own family, but in the fight for the environment and human rights. Dressed in a traditional poncho and straw sombrero, the grandmother calmly recounts the battle for her land for Sparrow’s cameras, who rightly focuses the documentary’s attention on her story.
In 1994, Acuña and her husband Jaime purchased 27 hectares of land in Tragadero Grande located in the remote Peruvian northern highlands. It is here that the land battles began after the Newmont Mining Company claimed they purchased land – including the property owned by the Acuñas – in 1997 in order to expand their mining operations.
Sparrow’s film picks up the story in 2011 when the Acuñas were served an eviction notice despite having proof of ownership. Their tiny grass and earth home was destroyed by engineers from Yanacocha in conjunction with private security guards and police, with local law enforcement refusing to take her report. Later, she and her daughter were severely beaten, while again, police refused to take her report despite video documentation and eyewitness accounts. From there, the film follows her journey to justice as it takes her from the Peruvian Supreme Court to the World Bank in Washington, D.C., gathering support at both home and abroad.
But Maxima is not just one woman’s personal story, it is about the fight for human rights in the face of intimidation, the oppression of indigenous peoples, and the destruction of environmental resources. Through the documentary, it is no surprise to find out Peru has one of the worst reputations in the world when it comes to human rights violations. Overall, Maxima is a story about resilience in the face of intimidation and adversity as it delivers hope with the notion that one small person really can make a big difference.
First debuting at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in 2019, Maxima is now available in wide release on video on demand platforms.