The Last Ice Merchant is the story of Baltazar Ushca – a 67-year-old, 5-foot-tall man who has been harvesting glacial ice from Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo for over 50 years with little more than his hands, some hay, and a small pack of donkeys.
Ushca lives a life of toil, and for very little pay. That the glaciar atop Chimborazo has receded in recent years means he must travel greater distances, and climb to higher elevations, to get at good ice. Meanwhile, ice has become readily available in Ecuador by industrialized means; and other ice merchants – Ushca's brothers, included – have long since moved on to other lines of work. Why does Ushca persist at his Sisyphean task?
"Changes aren't bad, they're good," says Juan, Uscha's youngest brother, who retired from ice-harvesting more than a decade ago to work in construction – a more leisurely mode of employment. "But our culture and the work of our ancestors... I don't want to forget it, I don't want to lose our culture."
The captivating mini-documentary, directed by Sandy Patch, is well worth the watch, and a thought-provoking exploration of how humans can struggle to maintain cultural identity in the face of societal transformation.
Via the documentary's website, where you'll find tons more information:
Twice a week for over half a century, Baltazar Ushca has hiked up the slopes of Mount Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador, to harvest glacial ice that covers the highest altitudes of this dormant volcano. In the past, up to forty ice merchants made the journey up the mountain to mine the ice; today, however, Baltazar works alone. Even his brothers, Gregorio and Juan, both raised as ice merchants, have retired from the mountain to find more steady work.
The Last Ice Merchant tells a story of cultural change and indigenous lifestyle through the perspectives of three brothers who have dealt with change in different ways. I wanted to portray the characters as the dignified people that they are and to show the very human story of their circumstances — to make a movie that would portray the indigenous community positively for both an outside audience, and also for the community itself.
[Spotted on Laughing Squid]