Documentary on Wheels: Car Culture in Karen Rossi’s Isla Chatarra

Juan Carlos Rodríguez

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Puerto Rico is a nation without a state. Since 1898, it has been a colonial territory of the United States.1 The island is also a nation on wheels, although it does not have a local auto industry. It has an average of 86 cars per hundred residents; approximately 15,000 cars enter its territory each month.2 Only a documentary on wheels like Karen Rossi’s Isla Chatarra (2007) can capture the urban flows and multiple speeds of the nation on wheels.3 This documentary keeps track of the different speeds of development, consumption, and identity in a society that continues to express the contradictory aspects of car culture. In this essay, I will elaborate on a definition of the “documentary on wheels,” which, for me, is a mode of filmmaking that explores the convergence of the car and the moving image. Following Michael Chanan’s cartographic conception of documentary, I will argue that Isla Chatarra operates as a cognitive mapping of what British sociologist John Urry has defined as the system of automobility. Rossi’s documentary offers a complex and catastrophic view of car culture that highlights the environmental consequences of automobility.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Cinema
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameGlobal Cinema
ISSN (Print)2634-5951
ISSN (Electronic)2634-596X


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  • British Sociologist
  • Dominant Culture
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