Home About The Film Reviews Filmmaker World Sales Publicity View Trailer


The restoration of Margot Benacerraf’s brilliant 1959 tone poem ARAYA, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the film’s first showing at the Cannes Film Festival, will change the face of Latin American film history. Although it shared the Cannes International Critics Prize with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, ARAYA was never picked up for widespread distribution. Rarely shown, this masterpiece was largely forgotten by the film world. Milestone’s North American theatrical premiere and worldwide release in 2009 will give audiences the chance to rediscover Benacerraf — a powerful and distinctive voice in the history of cinema.

Benacerraf’s film portrays a day in the life of three families living in one of the harshest places on earth — Araya, an arid peninsula in northeastern Venezuela. For 450 years, since its discovery by the Spanish, the region’s salt was manually collected and stacked into glowing white pyramids. Overlooking the area, a 17th-century fortress built to protect against pirate raids stood as a reminder of the days when the mineral was worth as much as gold and great fortunes were made in the salt trade. Benacerraf captures the grueling work of these salineros in breathtaking high-contrast black-and-white images. Her camera gracefully pans and glides to reveal the landscape and the people of the peninsula.  All night, the Pereda family toils in the salt marshes. In the morning, the Salaz clan arrives to load and stack the crystals under the hot brutal sun. Down the coastline, the Ortiz family fish and tend their nets, while the youngest member, Carmen, collects seashells and coral.

When it first premiered, ARAYA was compared to Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran and Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema. But according to the filmmaker, the film was never meant to be a documentary — it was meticulously planned as a tone poem — a composition in which cinematography, music, sound and language combine to create a moving and magical exploration of a desolate place and the remarkable people who lived there. ARAYA is a film of such lasting beauty that Jean Renoir told Benacerraf, “Above all … don’t cut a single image!”

ARAYA is one of Milestone’s most exciting discoveries, on par with our earlier treasures, Killer of Sheep, The Exiles and especially I Am Cuba with which it shares many qualities: a stunning richness of image, sheer poetry of sound and visuals, and a profound respect for the people of Araya — ARAYA will have just as pronounced an influence on the next generation of filmmakers.


View Trailer

Click here to read about ARAYA on Wikipedia

Click here to send inquiries about the film and to sign up for our mailing list

The restoration of Araya was completed by Milestone Film & Video with the support of FotoKem Laboratories, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Modern Videofilm and Scott MacQueen, Pro-tek. Website designed by Robert O'Har.


Director: Margot Benacerraf

Writers: Margot Benacerraf and Pierre Seghers

Narrator: José Ignacio Cabrujas (Spanish language version)

Narrator: Laurent Terzieff (French language version)

Original Music by: Guy Bernard

Cinematography by: Giuseppe Nisoli

Film Editing by: Pierre Jallaud and Francine Grübert

Distributor: Milestone Film & Video (worldwide)

In Manicuare: The Pereda Family (night workers in the salt marshes)

In El Rincón: The Ortiz Family (fishermen)

Araya: The Salazar family (day workers in the salt marsh)

Venezuela/France. 1959. 35mm. B&W. 82 minutes. 2470 meters. Mono sound.

Aspect ratio 1:1.66. Black and white. © 1959 and 2009 Margot Benacerraf and Milestone.

Location: Araya, Estado Sucre, Venezuela

International Critics’ Prize: 1959 Cannes Film Festival

Award of the Higher Technical Commission of French Cinema: Cannes Film Festival

Original Lab: L.T.C. France

Subtitling: LVT Laser Video Titres, New York.

Initial Premiere: May 13, 1959 at the Cannes Film Festival

World premiere of the restored film: February 7, 2009 at the Berlin Film Festival


Araya has lost none of its ability to fascinate and move us with its hypnotic combination of beauty and hardship. It's a gift to cineastes. – Steven Soderbergh

Stunningly shot and brilliantly crafted, this is a singular work from an incredibly distinct filmmaker. Araya is at once a revealing study of a very unique way of life and also a powerful meditation on the inextricable ties between society and place. We should all feel lucky to have this almost-forgotten gem unearthed and restored in all its beauty. – Barbara Kopple

More or less unseen for half a century (it has just been restored and will play in select cities), Margot Benacerraf's starkly beautiful 1959 documentary is the rare film whose austere sylistic impersonality is a key aspect of its elemental power. Benacerraf records the rituals of workers in a Venezuelan salt marsh -- men who lift salt chunks out of the ocean shallows, then tote the crystals in baskets to form giant pyramids -- in labors unaltered from 500 years ago. The movie has an undertow of poetic Marxism: it reveres this work, yet also silently protests its noble, grueling sameness.Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly

Copyright © 2009 Milestone Films.