Cocaine Prison


Violeta Ayala

  • Cocaine Prison


From inside one of Bolivia’s notorious prisons, a cocaine worker, a drug mule, and his little sister reveal the country's relationship with cocaine. COCAINE PRISON puts into perspective the War on Drugs and the lives of the ‘disposable’ people and questions the effort to incarcerate cocaine workers while banks worldwide have unfettered potential to launder billions of cocaine dollars every year.

Long Synopsis:

Bolivia's relationship with cocaine is not like the rest of Latin America where the 'business' is controlled by violence. For Bolivians, cocaine is just another commodity produced for export and traded in a consumer-driven global market.

Over the past forty years Boliviaʼs economy has grown dependent on the global demand for cocaine. The War on Drugs has brought violence to Latin America, but itʼs also created opportunity, freeing thousands from poverty in Bolivia where the price for coca-leaf has only increased since this war began.

In 1988, the U.S. in their War on Drugs coerced Bolivia to enact Law 1008, effectively redefining trafficking to mean, “to produce, possess, keep, store, transport, deliver, administer or give as a gift.” Half of Bolivia could have been classified traffickers but mostly the ʻlittle fishʼ ended up in prison within a corrupt and bureaucratic justice system, to a point where 70% of inmates in Bolivian jails havenʼt had a trial.

Set in Bolivia, COCAINE PRISON is a story driven, feature length documentary told from the point of view of people who make and transport cocaine. Bolivia is the third largest cocaine producer in the world, where approximately third of the workforce is employed in the cocaine industry.

Shot over three years, the film begins inside San Sebastian Prison, an overcrowded citadel with an open economy operating within its walls; a microcosm of Bolivia. The story follows three interlinked lives: Mario, a cocaine worker fighting for freedom; Hernan, a drug mule who wants to be a drug-boss; and his younger sister Daisy, who struggles to escape the lure to traffic cocaine. In a country where “the trade” isn’t ruled by violence and the anti-drug czar is caught trafficking cocaine, the three characters dispel the gun-totting ‘Narco’ myth, revealing the complex truth behind the War on Drugs.

Marioʼs story centers on his fight for a trial to reveal his boss identity; Daisyʼs on her struggle to free her brother Hernan as she decides between smuggling cocaine to Argentina or becoming the first person in her village to go to university. By the end of the film Hernan recovers his freedom thanks to a presidential pardon issued by Evo Morales.

Mario and Hernan film their daily lives inside the jail, giving us a real insight into the story.

COCAINE PRISON is a reflective tale about cocaine. Without glorifying the cocaine business the film will engage the audience to understand Bolivia; as Hernan's 6 year-old brother says, “coca is money, coca is survival.”

Supported by: IDFA Bertha Fund, Tribeca Film Institute, Fonds Sud Cinema France, Strasburg Film Fund, Norwegian Film Institute, Screen Australia and Screen NSW. 
Developed at the Berlinale Talent Campus 2010 / Selected to pitch at Sheffield Meetmarket and IDFA Forum 2010 / One of 8 projects selected for the Film Independent Lab 2012. Selected for Good Pitch NY 2013 where the film was awarded the Bertha Britdoc Journalism Fund.

About the director

  • Violeta Ayala

Violeta Ayala is an indigenous Bolivian artist/writer/filmmaker, best known for the documentary “Stolen” that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival 2009, screened in 80 festivals worldwide, winning 15 awards and aired on PBS prime time in Feb 2013. Violeta’s current credits include "Cocaine Prison" and "The Bolivian Case". She’s an alumnus of Film Independent Lab, the Berlinale Talent Campus, the Tribeca Film Institute, Britdoc Good Pitch and the Hot Docs Forum. Violeta is writing two screenplays, "Cocaine Queens," a film about her three-year experience filming in gaols and "El Comunista," a film about her grandfather, an exiled Serbian Jew, leader of the Bolivian communist party and friend to Che Guevara.

United Notions Film driving force is to create experiential films with challenging ideas that push boundaries. Our films stimulate debate and inspire people to take a stand. Established in 2006 by award winning filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw. Credits include STOLEN (Toronto IFF 2009 + 80 festivals, winning 14 awards, aired on PBS in 2013). UNF is due to release two feature docs in 2014: COCAINE PRISON (Tribeca Film Institute, IDFA’s Fund, Fonds Sud Cinema, the Strasbourg Film Fund, Screen NSW, Screen Australia, Norwegian Film Institute, Bertha Britdoc Journalism Fund) and THE BOLIVIAN CASE (Puma Britdoc, NRK, NFI and RTVC). UNF has offices in Bolivia, Australia and New York.

According to the filmmakers

As an indigenous Bolivian growing up in Bolivia where a great part of the economy is supported by the cocaine business, COCAINE PRISON is my most personal film so far; cocaine is intricately related to my life and an issue that affects the entire world.

The debate about the failure of The War on Drugs is reaching a crescendo. Bolivia is the third largest cocaine producer in the world and to understand the relationship between my country and cocaine is key to finding alternatives to the War on Drugs.

COCAINE PRISON was shot over a three-year period, the setting is unique, an overcrowded prison that resembles a citadel inside an old colonial Spanish house. We follow closely the lives of three little fish in their journey from incarceration to freedom, we laugh and cry with the characters as they fight against the odds, this film doesn’t shy away from the complexity that only someone from the inside can give an audience.

We’ve received an impressive amount of support to shoot the film, the Bertha funds will allow us to begin the editing process. But we need further funds to complete the required 20 weeks of editing. We have funds in France for the music and the technical side of post-production.

COCAINE PRISON is a beautiful film about a very sensitive yet important subject that needs to be discussed both in Bolivia and around the world.

Sales/Screening Contact

Dan Fallshaw