Whitney, Amy, Jane. Over the last decade, many documentaries on famous individuals have only used their subject’s first name for the title, symbolizing their icon status and worldwide recognition. While Máxima Acuña may not be as well known, her singular perseverance against corruption and greed easily earns the first name title of Claudia Sparrow’s illuminating documentary.
MAXIMA is a true David and Goliath story set in the mountainous Cajamarca region of Peru. The region is home to the Yanacocha Mine, the second largest gold mine in the world. Their plans for expansion though are halted by a small piece of land owned by subsistence farmer, Máxima Acuña. What begins as a simple land dispute grows into an international conversation about environmental and human rights abuses, as Máxima is sued, assaulted, spied on, and accosted at every opportunity.
While Máxima’s steadfastness against the tyranny of Yanacocha and the Newmont Corporation (the U.S. entity that is the majority owner of the mine) is powerful enough on its own, Sparrow wisely includes interviews with various human rights and legal subjects. These interviews help to show the macro effects that Máxima’s act of courage has had on all of Peru.
Rather than solely focus on the land dispute, Sparrow dives deeper to explore the metaphorical significance of the land. Yanacocha’s mining and planned expansion is a symbol of power and stark reminder about who truly controls Peru. Máxima’s unwillingness to give up her land stands as a threat to that power structure, which in itself shows the incredible difference even one individual can make in protecting their environment.
Even as the narrative of MAXIMA grows larger and more abstract, the film never abandons Máxima’s day to day struggles. Sparrow achieves a balance between intimacy and broad relevancy that is rare in many contemporary documentaries. While the film may be slightly too on the nose at times, largely due to an overpowering score, MAXIMA is an eye-opening reminder that love and passion can stand toe to toe with even the greediest and most power-hungry parties.
The Silver Lining
The opening scene of MAXIMA perfectly sets up the tone of the film without uttering a word. The viewer is first treated to stunning vista shots of the Andes Mountains, which serve as monuments to the immense beauty of nature. Then suddenly, the Yanacocha Mine comes into view, destroying the picturesque landscapes of the region. The storytelling from this scene alone gives us the context to understand Máxima’s (and her region’s) struggles.
MAXIMA is now playing at The Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles, and is also available to stream on Apple TV, Google Play, Tubi, and other major platforms.